Abandoned Property

Abandoned Property is a post-independence problem affecting landed and industrial properties abandoned by many during and after the War of Liberation. It is defined as certain property abandoned by persons absent from Bangladesh, or whose whereabouts were not known, or who had ceased to occupy or supervise, or manage in person their property, or who were enemy aliens. To make provisions for control, management and disposal of such property, the President of Bangladesh promulgated on 28 February 1972 the Bangladesh Abandoned Property (Control, Management and Disposal) Order. In exercise of the power conferred by Article 25 of the Order, the President also promulgated the Bangladesh Abandoned Property (Land, Building and other Property) Rules on 8 May 1972. Clause (1) of Article 2 of the order defines abandoned property as any property owned by a person who is not present in Bangladesh or whose whereabouts are not known or who has ceased to occupy, supervise or manage in person his property, including (a) any property owned by the person who is a citizen of a state which at any time after 25 March 1971 was at war with or engaged in military operations against the People's Republic of Bangladesh, and (b) any property taken over under the Bangladesh (Taking Over Control and Management of Industrial and Commercial Concerns) Order 1972. But, according to the clause, the term 'abandoned property'; does not include (a) any property the owner of which resides outside Bangladesh for any purpose which, in the opinion of the government, is not prejudicial to the interest of Bangladesh, and (b) any property which is in the possession or under the control of the government under the law for the time being in force. As per the Bangladesh Abandoned Property (Land, Building or any other Property) Rules 1972, property means (a) building including a structure of any kind and the land covered by it and necessary adjunct thereto, and (b) land including agricultural, horticultural and non-agricultural land, and land which is covered with water at any time of the year, including benefits to arise out of such land.

For the purpose of the annexation, administration, control, management and disposal, by transfer or otherwise, of a property, the government was empowered to take such measures as it considered necessary or expedient, do all acts and incur all expenses necessary or incidental thereto. The government was also empowered to (i) constitute one or more boards for any area or areas or for any abandoned property or any class or classes of abandoned properties; (ii) appoint an administrator for any abandoned property; (iii) carry on the business in respect of any abandoned property; (iv) take action for recovering any money in respect of any abandoned property; (v) make any contract and execute any document in respect of any abandoned property; (vi) institute, defend or continue any suit or other legal proceedings, refer any dispute to arbitration, and compromise any debts, claims or liabilities arising out of or in connection with the abandoned property; (vii) raise on the security of any abandoned property such loans as may be necessary; (viii) pay taxes, duties, cusses and rates to the government or to any local authority of an abandoned property; and (ix) transfer by way of sale, mortgage or lease, or otherwise dispose of any property or any easement, interest, profit or right, present or future, arising therefrom or incidental thereto.

Transfer of any abandoned property in any manner or creation of any change or encumbrance on such property was prohibited and any transfer made or change or encumbrance created in contravention of this order was declared null and void. Where any abandoned property was in possession of any person, the deputy commissioner or the sub-divisional magistrate was authorised to take possession of the property under Article 7 of the order. Where any abandoned property was in possession of any person, such person, within seven days of the commencement of the order, had to surrender such property to the deputy commissioner. Where the person in possession of any abandoned property failed to surrender such property as he was required to do under the provisions of the order, the deputy commissioner was to serve a notice on him, requiring him to surrender possession of the property within seven days of the service of the notice to the person mentioned in it or to show cause against such surrender within the said period and, if he failed to do so, the deputy commissioner was to take possession of the property.

Where the person on whom a notice was served showed cause, within the period specified in the notice, against the surrender of the abandoned property, the deputy commissioner, after making such local inquiry as he might consider necessary and after giving the person an opportunity of being heard, passed such order as he deemed fit. The deputy commissioner was empowered to manage the property taken possession of. Till the disposal of petitions under Article 16, the abandoned property could be leased out on a temporary basis for a period not exceeding one year at a time.

Thereafter, such land was to be managed in accordance with the rules and orders applicable to government khas lands and the buildings, if these were not required for any public purpose or in public interest were to be sold to the highest bidder in an open auction. Provisions for control and management of abandoned property consisting of shares of any company were as follows:

Where any abandoned property consists of shares in any company (a) the government shall be deemed to be the registered holder of such shares and, notwithstanding anything in the memorandum or articles of association of the company or in any agreement or instrument, shall have the same rights as the person whose share have vested in the government had immediately before such vesting; and (b) the government shall have the power to acquire, at its option, all or a portion of the remaining shares in such a company in the prescribed manner on such terms as it deems fit.

Where the government becomes the holder of more than fifty percent of the total number of shares in the company, the government may, by order in writing, (a) dissolve the board of directors of the company; (b) remove its managing director or any other director; (c) dissolve its managing committee, executive committee, advisory committee or any other committee or board; (d) remove its general manger or other manager; (e) terminate any managing agency agreement; (f) remove any of its officers or employees; (g) constitute any board or committee or appoint any person for its administration and management; and (h) give such direction in respect of its administration and management as it may deem fit.

The government may, in respect of a company mentioned in clause 2, by notification in the official gazette, do all such things which, but for the power conferred by this clause, would have required the passing of a special or extraordinary resolution by the share holders.

In case any property is vested in the government, the deputy commissioner, for such liabilities in respect of such property as might be determined by him, after giving the claimants an opportunity of being heard, may make such inquiries and examine such documents and records as deemed necessary.

The government was empowered to cancel any allotment to terminate any lease or amend the terms of any lease or agreement under which any abandoned property was held, occupied or managed by a person, where such allotment, lease or agreement had been granted or entered into after 25 March 1971.

Any property vested in the government under the order was exempted from all legal processes, including seizure, distress, ejectment, attachment or sale by any officer of a court or any other authority, and no injunction or other order of whatever kind in respect of such property was to be granted or made by any court or any other authority and the government could not be divested or dispossessed of such property by operation of any law for the time being in force.

Any person claiming any right or interest in any property treated by government as abandoned property could make an application, within three months of the date of commencement of the order, to the deputy commissioner of the district, on the ground that the property was not abandoned property or that his interest in the property had not been affected by the provisions of this order.

On receiving an application, the authority to which the application was made was to hold a summary inquiry in the same manner as is provided in the case of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure 1868 and after taking such evidence as might be produced into consideration, pass an order, stating the reason thereof, rejecting the application or allowing it, wholly or in part, on such terms and conditions as it thought fit to impose. Any person aggrieved by an order could, within one month of such order, file an appeal before the divisional commissioner when the order was passed by the deputy commissioner. The government was empowered, either on its own motion or on application, at any time, to revise any order. Any person who had been in unauthorised possession of any abandoned property was liable to pay such compensation for such unauthorised possession as might be assessed, in the prescribed manner, by the deputy commissioner. Any person who had caused damage to or disposed of the whole or part of any abandoned property was liable to pay such compensation as might be assessed in the prescribed manner by the deputy commissioner. The government had to maintain a separate account of each abandoned property according to the instructions issued by the government from time to time and cause to enter therein all receipts and expenditure in respect thereof. Such accounts of the abandoned properties had to be inspected and audited at least once a year either by the Accountant General of Bangladesh, or by such other agency as the government might, by a special order, direct.

The Abandoned Property Order prescribed punishment for unauthorised use of abandoned property, which reads as follows: "without prejudice to the provisions of Article 17, any person who willfully causes damage to, or disposes of the whole or a part of, any abandoned property shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with fine or with both". Any person, who fails to surrender any abandoned property as required under clause 2 or clause 3 of Article 7 or Article 10, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to five years or with fine or with both.

The Land Administration and Land Reform Division issued a memo on 13 September 1982, detailing policy for disposal of vested/abandoned properties under its effective control. Some of the policy issues are as follows: (a) houses used for accommodation of government offices and residences of officers and staff, which were in good maintainable condition would be retained and handed over to the Ministry of Public Works for maintenance; (b) the dilapidated and katcha houses and the houses not required by the government would be offered to the existing lessees at an evaluated price, provided they or their dependants had no house or plot of land in any urban area. If, however, the existing lessees were unable, unwilling or disqualified to take advantage of the offer, the houses could be sold by public announcement through sealed tenders restricted to persons who had no residential houses or plots in the urban areas in their own names or in the names of their dependants; (c) abandoned agricultural land not affected by civil suits or otherwise disputed and in effective control of the government could be settled with bona fide landless or near landless cultivators in accordance with the rules and orders applicable to government khas land.

Abandoned properties, under the effective control of the Ministry of Land, are being managed in accordance with the provisions of Bangladesh Abandoned Property (Control, Management and Disposal) Order, 1972 (P O No. 16 of 1972) and the Bangladesh Abandoned Property (Land, Building and any other Property) Rules 1972. The Board of Land Administration, constituted under the Board of Land Administration Act, 1980 reiterated that the deputy commissioners should strictly follow the provisions of P O 16 of 1972 and the rules framed there under by the Ministry of Land in 1972. [Shamsud Din Ahmed]

See also vested property.