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Enemy Property

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  19 March 2017 12:00 AM GMT

The NDA government has at last maged to clear through Parliament the amended Enemy Property Act of 1968. Having introduced the bill in January last year, the government had to bring out five ordinces as the bill went to the parliamentary select panel for scrutiny and met stiff resistance in Rajya Sabha. President Prab Mukherjee had made his displeasure known, asking why he was being made to sign the same ordince repeatedly if the ruling dispensation could not bring the opposition on board. Filly, when the bill was passed in the Upper House last week, it so happened that several members were absent, prompting an opposition walkout after rejection of its demand to defer the bill. Probably the results in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, the state with the largest number of enemy properties, had something to do with the opposition ceding ground. Be as it may, the Central government is now asserting that the bill had to be passed this time as the ordince was to lapse on March 14, that the amended law is in larger public interest and will plug ‘loopholes to ensure that enemy properties worth thousands of crores of rupees do not revert to the enemy or enemy firms’. The origil law had authorised the government to seize properties of citizens who had emigrated to Pakistan or Chi following wars with those tions; all movable and immovable assets left behind by ‘the enemy, enemy subjects and enemy firms’ were vested in the office of the Custodian of Enemy Property in Mumbai which would administer the assets. This was done in case of Chinese tiols in India after the 1962 war, and then Pakistani tiols in India after the wars of 1965 and 1971. Now the amended law, which will apply retrospectively, extends the definition of “enemy” to include legal heirs of declared enemies, even when the heir is an Indian citizen, or of a country not deemed to be an enemy. It also bars civil courts from hearing disputes related to enemy property.
The NDA government’s ratiole for amending the law is that the Government of Pakistan has long ago seized and unilaterally disposed of all Indian-owned properties in that country as well as in erstwhile East Pakistan, that such a move was in violation of the Tashkent Declaration of 1966 which had called upon the two neighbours ‘to discuss’ the return of properties seized by either side. In fact, the UPA government in 2010 promulgated an ordince to prevent vested enemy properties from falling into the hands of legal heirs of those who moved to other countries. But that ordince was allowed to lapse, as the UPA failed to replace it with an Act of Parliament. It was then argued that the move to amend the enemy property law was ‘anti-Muslim’, that it would deprive a large number of Muslims of their right to ancestral property seized by the Indian State. Five years earlier in 2005, the Supreme Court had ruled that legal heirs ‘who are Indian citizens’ can reclaim so-called enemy property. This verdict was handed down in connection with the 900 properties of the erstwhile Raja of Mahmudabad, whose family had petitioned the apex court for decades for return of those assets. Mohammad Amir Ahmed Khan, the Raja of Mahmudabad located in present-day Uttar Pradesh, had emigrated to Pakistan in 1957, but his wife and son did not. Now their descendants stand to lose the properties as the amended law will apply retrospectively; many other families too across the country share their predicament. The number of properties with the Custodian of Enemy Property has risen from 2,111 in 2013 to over 16,000 presently. As per a rough estimate, around 9,400 such properties are valued at Rs 1 lakh crore. With the survey continuing, the number of enemy properties in India is expected to rise further. Home Minister Rajth Singh, replying to the debate in Parliament over passage of the bill, argued that no human rights will be violated by the amended law, that it applies ‘only on heirs of enemy property’, and that tents will be uffected even though Tency laws will apply. But civil rights activists have raised the pertinent objection that India is not Pakistan, so does it behove the world’s largest democracy to discrimite against some of its own citizens for being descendants of those who went over to Pakistan? Should these descendents be punished for staying behind in India? Besides, how will the Indian State distinguish between those who emigrated of their own accord, and evacuees who had to leave hearth and home under duress? With different courts having dealt with this issue in the past, it is clear there are many grey areas that the government must now be sensitive to in applying the amended law.

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