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Departmental Backdrop
The Partition of Bengal in 1947, part of the Partition of India, was based on religion, that divided the British Indian province of Bengal between India and Pakistan. Predominantly Hindu West Bengal became a province of India, and predominantly Muslim East Bengal became a province of Pakistan.

The partition, with the power transferred to Pakistan and India on August 14–15, 1947, was done according to what has come to be known as the "3 June Plan" or "Mountbatten Plan". India's freedom on August 15, 1947 ended over 150 years of British influence in the Indian subcontinent.

East Bengal, which became a province of Pakistan according to the provisions set forth the Mountbatten Plan, later became the independent country of Bangladesh after the 1971.

Refugee crisis

A massive population transfer immediately began after partition. Millions of Hindus migrated to India from East Bengal. The majority of them settled in West Bengal. A smaller number went to Assam, Tripura and other states.

Who was a refugee

According to 1951 UN Convention, "A refugee is a person owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

Immediately after the partition, when the mass exodus was going on in full swing in the eastern part of India, the Government of India defined the term ‘displaced' in the following words:

"A displaced person is one who had entered India (who left or who was compelled to leave his home in East Pakistan on or after October 15, 1947) for disturbances or fear of such disturbances or on account of setting up of the two dominions of India and Pakistan."


1951 census in India recorded 2.523 million refugees from East Bengal. Among them 2.061 million settled in West Bengal. The rest went to Assam, Tripura and other states. By 1973 their number reached over 6 million. The following table shows the major waves of refugee influx.

Table 1: Month-wise Break-up of Refugee Influx to West Bengal
Month 1953 1954 1955 1956
January 5,248 4,077 15,674 17,011
February 5,961 5,710 22,848 42,360
March 7,507 5,821 26,503 15,167
April 6,900 6,002 15,070 18,039
May 6,032 6,656 18,190 34,657
June 4,798 6,354 21,146 24,734
July 5,026 6,208 22,957 27,442
August 4,147 8,127 13,813 -
September 3,223 10,644 9,371 -
October 4,379 10,352 13,757 -
November 3,212 11,073 11,535 -
December 4,214 22,776 18,709 -
Total 60,647 1,03,800 2,09,573 1,79,410
Source: Relief and Rehabilitation of Displaced Persons in West Bengal (Calcutta: Home [Pub.] Department, Government of West Bengal, 1956)

Government Response

Initial Scenario

In Punjab, Indian Government anticipated a population transfer and was ready to take proactive measures. Land plots which were evacuated by Muslims were allotted to incoming Hindu and Sikh refugees. Government allocated substantial resources for rehabilitation of refugees in Punjab. In contrast there was no such planning in the eastern part of the country. Neither Central nor West Bengal state Government anticipated any large scale population exchange and no coordinated policy was in place to rehabilitate millions of homeless people. The newly independent country had few resources and the Central Government was exhausted in resettling 7 million refugees in Punjab. Instead of providing rehabilitation, the Indian Government tried to stop and even reverse the refugee influx from East Bengal. India and Pakistan signed the Nehru-Liaqut pact in 1950 to stop any further population exchange between West and East Bengal. Both countries agreed to take the refugees back and return them their property which they evacuated in their respective countries. But in practice both countries failed to uphold it. While Nehru's intention to avoid another population exchange was honest, clinging to the pact long after it failed to stop the influx had a disastrous consequence. The Government eventually realized that refugees were determined not to be sent back. But it failed to provide any significant assistance. The Government policy of East Bengal refugee rehabilitation mostly consisted of sending them to 'empty areas', mostly outside of West Bengal. One of the most controversial of such schemes was the Government's decision to settle the refugees by force in Dandakaranya, a barren plot of land in central India.

Jabar dakhal colonies

Let us first consider the case of those refugees who crossed over to West Bengal from East Pakistan from the late 1940s and early '50s, and who primarily belonged to the upper or middle classes. Due to their class character, their natural destination was Calcutta where they hoped to find jobs or professional opportunities suitable for them. Many of them had friends, relatives and acquaintances in Calcutta, who initially helped them to resettle here. In a way, a social network system of these displaced people played an important role to reconstruct their lives in the other side of the border. Neither of these two groups of people was interested to go to the relief camps. Even those who belonged to the middle class and comparatively worse off families, and did not possess much resources, did not want to settle in the refugee camps mainly because of their maan (honour). Against this backdrop, the squatters' colonies, an important part of the life and landscape of West Bengal, definitely a significant part of Calcutta, mushroomed. In some cases, where the land was acquired through legal means and procedures, the government termed the areas of refugee settlement as ‘private colonies'. But, in other cases, apparently vacant land, owned by the government or by big landowners, was acquired through forcible occupation. This process of ‘collective takeover' was known as jabar dakhal. Though the squatters' colonies flourished in other parts of West Bengal, in December 1950, there were about 149 squatters' colonies, all of which grew up in Calcutta, 24 Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly districts. A large concentration of these squatters' colonies was found in the southeastern portion of the Calcutta Metropolitan District, especially in the areas like Jadavpur, Tollygange, Kasba and Behala. approximately 40 such colonies were established by the year 1950. The refugees built up their own shelters in these areas virtually without any government aid. In order to link the habitation with livelihood, the colonies were set up near the towns or industrial areas.

But, the squatters' colonies were not limited to the cities and suburbs. In rural areas, the refugee peasants took over the uncultivated wasteland. Such land was seized not only for habitation, but also for cultivation. This type of agricultural colonies was established in Bankura, Birbhum, Midnapore, Burdwan, Nadia, Murshidabad, 24 Parganas, West Dinajpur, Malda, Coochbihar and Jalpaiguri districts.


At the peak of the inflow of refugees from across the border with East Pakistan, the government mainly set up three types of camps, namely, women's camps, worksite camps and Permanent Liability (PL) Camps. The inmates of the women's camps comprised mostly women and children who had no male member of their family to look after them. Bhadrakali and Bansberia women's camp in Hooghly district, Ranaghat Women's Home in Nadia district were such women's camps. As time passed by, many of the inmates of these women's camps were permanently rehabilitated along with their family members in and around the camp area. Second, in order to counteract the demoralising effect of the prolonged stay in the camps, the government introduced a system of keeping able-bodied men engaged in useful work for the development of the area, where they were supposed to be rehabilitated. Accordingly, 32 such worksite camps were set up in West Bengal. Bagjola camp and Sonarpur R5 scheme in 24 Parganas are examples of such worksite camps. The refugees were also kept engaged in many Central Government-aided projects like the Damodar Valley Corporation projects etc.

Finally, the PL camps were for those refugees who were considered unfit for any kind of gainful employment through which they could be rehabilitated. They were mainly old, infirm, invalid and orphans. These PL camps were located in Dudhkundi in Midnapore district, Bansberia in Hooghly, Chandmari, Cooper's Camp (partially), Chamta and Dhubulia in Nadia district, Habra, Ashoknagar and Titagarh in 24 Parganas district. On November 30, 1952, the population of these camps and the homes was 34,000, including the population of the orphanages. The number soon increased to 37,000. According to the report on the Relief and Rehabilitation of the displaced persons in West Bengal, in 1953, the number of camp admission of the refugees was 10,474, in 1954, the number was 46,904, and in 1955, the number increased to 1,09.834.42 In most cases, the military barracks and tunnel-shaped huts made of iron constructed for Allied soldiers (during the World War II) were converted originally into camps for the refugees. Thousands of refugees, the displaced persons who arrived either by train or by truck from across the border, were dumped in these camps. When some of these camps became overpopulated and the government could not provide any more space in these makeshift military barracks or huts, the additional refugees got tents to live in.

Production Center

Some training centers were also established during this period for vocational training of refugee youth as was in Titagarh in 24 Parganas. Some production centers were established to provide job opportunity for refugee people like RIC, Production Centers at Habra, Bonhooghly etc.

Bynanama Scheme

Between 1947 and 1955, the Indian Government provided ad hoc assistance to enable the refugees to resettle themselves under the Byanama Scheme. Under this scheme a camp refugee was allowed to choose a plot of land that he wanted to buy with the Government loan. The Government used to grant loans for the rehabilitation of refugees in the rural and urban areas depending upon the occupational background of the displaced. All these loans were revoked by the government in 1974.

Government sponsored colonies

The refugee families were rehabilitated by allotting plot of land in 603 government sponsored colonies in different districts of west Bengal from the camps. These colonies were planned with facilities like road, sanitation, drainage, park, schools etc. The allottees were provided with house building and small trade loans. In the rural colonies the allottees were provided with agricultural land up to 9 bighas per family. The ceiling of homestead plots was 5 katha & 10 katha in urban and rural government colonies respectively.

Post 50 squatter's (Jabardakhal) colonies

As the influx of refugees continued till Bangladesh war, they settled in many places by setting up new colonies. 175 such colonies were identified by an exercise till 1981. Exodus of refugee to a massive magnitude took place during Bangladesh war. Again new colonies were settled. In another exercise the department identified 607 such colonies. The government of India in 1986 recognised the squatter's colonies for rehabilitation. Fund was provided for acquisition of land and Infrastructure Development. But the Central Goverment maintained that the list will be last and final. They refused to provide any further assistance. However, the state government continued identifying new colonies. A list of 998 colonies was recognised. The list was sent to the Central government for approval but was turned down. The state government, however decided to regularise those colonies that are situated on state government land.

Title of land

The refugee families were given lease right of 99 years by the government in the beginning. In certain cases there was lease of 999 years. But it was their constant demand of getting free hold right over their allotted/occupied land. It is in the 1980s the government accepted their demand and started issuing Free Hold Title Deed to the displaced person's families. The work is still in progress.

Infrastructure Development

The government is working in providing better living condition to the refugee colonies.

New Ideas

Total quantity of land lying with the department is immense. With the changing socio-economic circumstances the government is also looking forward to earn revenue for the state exchequer from the water bodies, market, shops and commercially used properties.

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