Parliament passed Tuesday a long-pending amendment to a 49-year old Act preventing the successors of those who migrated to Pakistan and China during Partition from holding any claim to properties left behind in India. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said “it will be natural justice” if the properties of those who have gone to Pakistan are not returned as Pakistan has “seized the properties of Indian citizens”. Lok Sabha passed the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill 2006, which has been pending for a long time — five ordinances were promulgated during this period — with a voice vote, incorporating amendments cleared by the Rajya Sabha last week. The Lower House had passed the bill earlier, but Rajya Sabha added more amendments following the recommendations of a select committee.
The amendments passed to the 1968 Act will be effective retrospectively. Although there was no opposition to the amendments in Lok Sabha, RSP member N K Premachandran, who moved a statutory amendment on the provision to implement the law retrospectively, asked whether the amendments could stand judicial scrutiny as the rights accrued by people since 1968 would be taken away because of the provision to implement the law retrospectively.
The home minister said the MP was making “too many assumptions”. With a number of MPs expressing apprehensions that this provision could lead to litigation, Rajnath said: “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.”
“Enemy property” refers to any property belonging to, held or managed on behalf of an enemy, an enemy subject or an enemy form. The government has vested such properties in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India.
“The purpose of the 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 that should have ideally happened in 2010 when the bill was introduced,” Rajnath said. The amendments to the bill were brought in after heirs of Raja Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan laid claims to his properties spread across Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The matter is before the Supreme Court.
When some Opposition MPs said the move was against the principle of natural justice and amounted to a human rights violation, Rajnath said, “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 is not returned.”
He also said there will be no human rights violation as the legal tenants will be protected under the Tenancy Act. Singh said such properties worth thousands of crores of rupees have been identified and the process is still on. Congress member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was among those who questioned the provision to implement the legislation with retrospective effect and wondered what its ramifications would be. He argued that the bill would have adverse financial impact on people, especially Muslims.