In the run-up to the Assembly elections due next year, the Mamata Banerjee led government in West Bengal is planning to hand over freehold land title deeds to over 20,000 people residing in 119 refugee colonies in the state.
The state government is preparing a database and an initial list of 15,000 residents is ready, while another one of around 6,500 people is being made, a senior state government official said.
Most of the residents of the 119 refugee colonies are immigrants, and their descendants, from areas in present-day Bangladesh.
Banerjee had announced a scheme in this regard in March, in a bid to counter the BJP’s aggressive attempts to woo Hindu voters through the proposed implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The chief minister had distributed freehold land title deeds to the residents of 94 refugee colonies in March. She had announced similar measures for another 119 such colonies.
Around 3,500 new beneficiaries are from Howrah, Hooghly, North and South 24 Parganas and Nadia districts of south Bengal, the official said.
A large number of beneficiaries are also from the north Bengal districts of Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Malda, Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur districts, he said.
“A freehold land deed owner will not be able to sell his/her land for the first 10 years,” the official said.
The entire survey was conducted by officials of the state Land and Land Reforms and Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Department amid the Covid-19 outbreak, he said.
The decision was taken apparently to deny political benefits to the BJP, which was hoping to cash in on the CAA to woo the refugees, including members of the Matua community who had migrated to West Bengal from erstwhile East Pakistan, TMC sources said.
A section of the refugees in West Bengal are from the Scheduled Caste communities.
Banerjee has been vehemently opposing both the NRC and the CAA.
Accusing the TMC of “protecting illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as they are the party’s vote bank”, BJP leaders have asserted that NRC will be implemented in the state.
“The TMC is trying to fool the refugees. Under the CAA, citizenship would be granted so what is the meaning of this land deed? This is nothing but an attempt to mislead the people,” BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said.
A section of the people in the state had panicked following the publication of updated final NRC in BJP ruled Assam on August 31 last year, which had left out 19.6 lakh people, of whom around 12 lakh are reportedly Hindus.
At least 12 people had died by suicide in West Bengal allegedly due to fears over the proposed implementation of NRC in the state.
Millions of people had fled East Pakistan to seek shelter in West Bengal and the northeastern states during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
West Bengal has a huge refugee population in border districts such as North and South 24 Parganas, Nadia, Uttar Dinajpur, Coochbehar and Malda.
The refugees, who hold sway in many seats in these districts, are being wooed by all the political parties in the state.