Story of a controversial ordinance

The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance has been promulgated many times

The recent promulgation of the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance saw some controversy as it was the fifth time that the law was being introduced through the ordinance route. President Pranab Mukherjee approved it although he had reservations about its repeated re-promulgation. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in March 2016, but the Rajya Sabha sent it to a Select Committee.

After the wars against China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, property belonging to the nationals of these two countries was taken over by the Union government under the Defence of India Acts. Later, the Enemy Property Act, 1968 was passed to vest all such immovable and movable property in a ‘Custodian’. The son of a person whose property in India had been taken over after he emigrated to Pakistan wanted it to be returned to him on the ground that he (the son and legal heir) was a citizen of India, and the property concerned was no more enemy property after his father’s death. After years of litigation, the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the Custodian did not have any title to the property and was only a trustee managing it. This ruling meant that legal heirs of erstwhile owners of enemy property, if they were Indian citizens, could get it back. The Centre promulgated an ordinance in 2010 to get over the implications of the judgment so that valuable property, numbering in thousands and worth thousands of crores of rupees, would continue to be with the Custodian. The ordinance lapsed then, and was issued afresh in January 2016. Since then, it has been issued again repeatedly.

Six members of the Select Committee have recorded their dissent in its report. They opposed the declaration of Indian legal heirs of enemies as enemies too, the bar on their inheriting the property, the vesting of the title in the Custodian.

Pakistan had sold or disposed of property belonging to Indians nationals and firms in 1971 itself, while in India such property is in the hands of a Custodian.

Currently, immovable properties belonging to Pakistani nationals in India number 9,280, and comprise 11,882 acres. The total value is estimated to be Rs. 1,04,340 crore, with shares in companies valued at Rs. 2,634 crore. Investments in gold, jewellery, bank accounts, deposits and government securities are also with the Custodian. There are 149 properties belonging to Chinese nationals in India.

Act One, a weekly column to appear every Friday, will explain a law, amendment or bill.

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