WITH JUST 31 members present, the Rajya Sabha Friday passed a Bill to amend a 49-year-old law to guard against claims of succession or transfer by heirs of property left behind by those who migrated to Pakistan and China, amid a walkout by the handful of Opposition members. Registering their protest, the Congress and Left parties alleged the government had pushed the Bill in violation of an “understanding” within the Business Advisory Committee (BAC), and on a Friday afternoon when the House was near-empty.
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“We strongly protest. This is against the decision of the BAC. The Chair had directed in the BAC Thursday that the government will talk to the Opposition and this will be taken up only after a consensus is reached. The Opposition will meet on this. Not only will we protest, we will take it up with all our numbers and strength,” Congress deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma told The Indian Express.
CPI(M) Parliamentary party leader Sitaram Yechury said, “The bill was passed in a very clandestine manner. In the BAC, they had agreed that the matter will be shelved because it is a very sensitive issue. The general impression was that they were not going to bring it. But contrary to the understanding in the BAC, they smuggled it in today at the end of the private member business when there are virtually nobody in the House. This is a total sleight of hand and betrayal of the assurance that they gave.”
“The Government has broken mutual trust,” said CPI’s D Raja. None of the top leaders of the Opposition were present in the Upper House when the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, which amends the Enemy Property Act, 1968, was taken up. Arguing that it be deferred, Congress’s Jairam Ramesh pointed to the absence of senior members, including the Leader of Opposition, in the House. “Therefore, the Bill should be taken up for discussion and passed on the next working day,” he said. Ramesh’s views were echoed by other MPs, including SP’s Javed Ali Khan and Trinamool Congress’s Sukhendu Shekhar Roy.
But the government appeared determined to pass the Bill, and a number of its ministers were present in the House, including Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parikkar, J P Nadda, M Venkaiah Naidu, Suresh Prabhu, Piyush Goyal, Prakash Javadekar, Ananth Kumar and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. After the amended Bill was passed by a voice vote, it was returned to the Lok Sabha for final passage just before it was adjourned for the day. Explaining the rationale behind the urgency to get the Bill passed, Finance Minister and Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said the ordinance effecting the amendments in the Act would lapse on March 14, 2017, and that this was a security issue.
Jaitley said the right of enemy property should vest in the government and not in the heirs of citizens of enemy countries. Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who was supposed to reply to the debate on the Bill, said that there was no further need for him to elaborate since the Leader of the House has already explained about the Bill. The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha last March. The Rajya Sabha had sent it to a select committee, following whose recommendations, the Government had moved a number of amendments. One of the proposed amendments is that once enemy property is vested in the custodian, it shall continue to be vested in him as enemy property irrespective of whether the “enemy, enemy subject or enemy firm” has ceased to be an enemy due to reasons such as death.
The new Bill ensures that the law of succession does not apply to enemy property; there cannot be transfer of any property vested in the custodian by an enemy or enemy subject or enemy firm; and, the custodian shall preserve the property till it is disposed of in accordance with the Act. The Bill also prohibits civil courts and other authorities from entertaining disputes related to enemy property.
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