Parliament Passes Enemy Property Amendment Bill
Updated on March 15, 2017
The Lok Sabha on March 14 passed the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016. Earlier, the Rajya Sabha has given its approval to the Bill. The Bill denies inheritance rights to heirs of individuals, who left the country for Pakistan and China at the time of partition.
The amendment was introduced after the Raja of Mahmudabad of Uttar Pradesh made a claim on properties belonging to his father. These properties were declared enemy properties and seized by the Indian government after the India-Pakistan partition.
According to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the purpose of the Bill was to clarify the rules, and that inheritance law would not apply to enemy properties.
The Centre plans to amend a 48-year-old law that deals with claims of transfer or succession related to the properties left behind by people who migrated to Pakistan or China after any of the three wars that India has had since Independence. The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, which is yet to get the Rajya Sabha’s approval, proposes to amend the Enemy Property Act, 1968, and the Public Premises (Evacuation of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971.
The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in the Budget session, replaced an ordinance promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee in January this year. The government has also set up a select committee of the Rajya Sabha under Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Bhupendra Yadav to suggest changes to the law.
Earlier, the United Progress Alliance government of the day had in 2010 also proposed amendments to the Enemy Property Act. But the Bill was referred to a standing committee and could not get Parliament’s approval following an opposition by some members.
What’s the law?
After to the 1962 China-India War and the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, many people moved to those countries and became nationals there. The Indian government took over the properties left behind by such people — often referred to as “enemy properties” — under the Defence of India Rules, framed under the Defence of India Act.
In the past, there have been several disputes by the legal heirs and successors claiming enemy property. Now, the latest proposed amendment will make the Centre the final custodian of such properties. The new draft Bill clarifies that even after the death of the “enemy” or even when the person ceases to be an “enemy”, his property will remain an ‘enemy property’. The Act restrains the applicability of law of succession to such properties and also restricts their transfer, unless in accordance with the Act.
Here is a look at the changes proposed in the Bill:
- The draft’s definition of “enemy subject” and “enemy” is more inclusive. It now includes legal heirs and successors of the “enemy”, irrespective of their nationality.
- The enemy property will lie with the custodian – the Indian government – even if the “enemy”, or “enemy companies”, or “enemy subject” ceases to be an “enemy” due to death, winding up, etc. This condition stands even if the country ceases to be an “enemy” (in retrospect).
- The law of succession or any other local custom or usage will not be applicable to “enemy properties”.
- Section 18B of the Bill states that no civil court or any other authority will admit any suit or legal proceeding on enemy properties. This clause has earned the Opposition’s ire, with parties like the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal claiming that the Bill is against the interests of the minority community.
- The custodian department has been granted the power to dispose of the enemy property, with prior permission from the Centre. All the government directives will be binding on the department.
- Neither any enemy nor any enemy subject will have any right to transfer or create any third-party interest in the designated enemy properties.
- The custodian department will be liable to preserve enemy properties, till it is disposed of, or maintain according to the provisions of the Bill.
A verdict and its ripple effects
The erstwhile Raja of Mahmudabad, Mohammad Amir Ahmad Khan, owned several properties in Uttar Pradesh cities of Lucknow, Sitapur, Nainital, etc. Following the partition in 1947, he left India while his wife and children stayed back in India. When the Enemy Property Act came into force in 1968, the Indian government declared the Raja’s estate an “enemy property”. When the Raja died, his legal heirs filed a case claiming his properties. In 2005, the Supreme Court gave a verdict in their favour which opened the floodgates to innumerable pleas by heirs of the so-declared “enemies”. With the promulgation of an ordinance by the President in 2010, the Supreme Court judgment had been rendered ineffective.
What’s at stake?
The office of the Custodian of Enemy Property has more than 16,000 properties, worth lakhs of crores of rupees, across the country. For generations, these properties have been occupied by government offices, businesses and residences. If these highly valuable properties are given back to “enemies” or their heirs, it will disrupt infrastructure and government machinery in many cities.