Successors of those who migrated to Pakistan and China during partition will have no claim over the properties left behind in India, with Parliament on Tuesday passing a bill to amend a 49-year-old law.
The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, which amends the Enemy Property Act, 1968, was passed by voice vote in the Lok Sabha, incorporating the amendments made by the Rajya Sabha last week.
The Lok Sabha had passed the bill earlier but certain amendments were introduced to it in the Rajya Sabha, on the recommendations of a Select Committee. Those amendments had to be approved by the Lower House, which was done on Tuesday.
RSP member N.K. Premachandran had moved a statutory amendment seeking to introduce clarity with regard to those properties which had already been acquired by the heirs of the ’enemy’ property owners, a reference to nationals of Pakistan and China.
According to the bill, “Enemy property” refers to any property belonging to, held or managed on behalf of an enemy, an enemy subject or an enemy firm.
The government has vested these properties in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India, an office instituted under the central government.
After the India-Pakistan War of 1965, the Enemy Property Act was enacted in 1968, which regulates such properties and lists the Custodian’s powers.
“The purpose of bill is to clarify the 1968 Act. Inheritance law will not be applicable on Enemy Property... This will put an end to the long pending issue which should have ideally happened in 2010 when the bill was introduced,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said while replying to a brief debate on the bill.
The government brought the amendment in the wake of a claim laid by the heirs of Raja Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan, known as Raja of Mahmudabad, on his properties spread across Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The matter is before the Supreme Court.
Five ordinances were promulgated on the bill. The last one is due to expire on Tuesday.
Justifying the move to amend the Act, Mr. Singh rejected the contention of some MPs that it was against the principle of natural justice and amounted to human rights violations.
“I wonder how it is against the principle of natural justice. Pakistan has seized the properties of Indian citizens... It will be natural justice if their property (of those who migrated to Pakistan) is not returned,” he said.
The Minister assured the House that there will be no human rights violations following the amendments as the rights if Indian citizens are not being taken away.
“The law only applies on heirs of enemy property... The tenants of those property will be governed by the Tenancy Act,” he said.
The amendments will be effective retrospectively.
Some members expressed concern over this provision, saying there could be litigations.
“Parliament and State legislatures have the power to formulate law... I do not see any adverse impact of retrospective amendment. As and when the situation arises, we will deal with it,” the Home Minister said.
He also cited various Supreme Court rulings to allay concerns on this aspect.
An ordinance to amend the law was promulgated for the fifth time on December 22, 2016 and it was due to lapse on Tuesday. An ordinance lapses after 42 days from the day a session begins unless a bill to replace it is approved by Parliament.
Mr. Singh said the bill could not be taken up for consideration in the first phase of the budget session between January 31 and February 9 and it was necessary that it is passed on Tuesday.
“Our government is not in favour of bringing an ordinance again and again. It was in public interest that the President had to promulgate the ordinance for the fifth time,” he said.
The ordinance was promulgated on January 7, 2016 for the first time. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 9, 2016 , but was subsequently referred to the Rajya Sabha Select Committee.
The Home Minister said the ‘enemy’ properties are worth thousands of crores of Rupees and that all such assets have been identified. “If any properties remain to be identified, those will also be identified...It is a continuous process,” he added.
He underlined that a tenant will be unaffected by the new law even though Tenancy laws will apply.
On the claim laid on Raja Mahmudabad’s properties by his heirs, Mr. Singh said they have no claim.
He said the Standing Committee of Parliament had strongly felt that “enemy property” should not go to those who have migrated to Pakistan.
Congress member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury opposed the provision to implement the legislation with retrospective effect and wondered what would be its ramifications.
While observing that new definitions of patriotism are coming up which is a “sad thing”, he claimed that the bill would have adverse financial impact on the people, especially Muslims.
He urged the government to dispel the concerns regarding the bill.
He remarked that it was unprecedented that a government had promulgated five ordinances for a bill.
Taking a dig at the government for bringing five ordinances, Trinamool member Saugata Roy said, “if this is not ordinance raj, then I don’t know what ordinance raj is“.
There are many properties in Lucknow which were owned by the Raja of Mahmudabad, who after partition moved to Pakistan, he said, adding “If there is an eviction from such properties, then there would be a tremendous civil turmoil in Lucknow.”
He also expressed concern that Lok Sabha members were deprived of their chance to give their input on the bill as he noted that it had earlier been referred to the Rajya Sabha Select Committee.
No ordinance has been promulgated five times on a bill and such moves reflect bad governance, Mr. Premachandran said, adding that ordinances are brought only in compelling circumstances.
On the provision to implement the law retrospectively, he asked the government how it can take away the rights accrued by people since 1968, when the original law was brought into force.
The government has made structural change in the definition of “enemy” under the bill, he added.
Mohammed Salim (CPI(M)) said the provision in the bill whereby people cannot go to lower courts would impact the poor as going to High Court would be expensive.
With these kinds of properties, there would have been corruption and loot. The government should look into it, he added.
Shiv Sena member Arvind Sawant said the bill would help plug the legal loopholes.
However, Mr. Sawant, whose party is an ally of the ruling BJP, sounded sceptical about the government issuing ordinances on the matter, saying that even the President of India had expressed reservations on ordinances.
Welcoming the bill, Rajmohan Reddy (YSR Congress) said the proceeds from enemy property, estimated to be worth over Rs. 1 lakh crore, should be used for welfare activities.
Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav (RJD) said more discussions were needed on certain provisions of the bill and added that people should get natural justice.
Thota Narasimham (TDP), Konda Vishweshwar Reddy and Kaushalendra Kumar (JD(U)) also spoke.