President Pranab Mukherjee has approved the re-promulgation of the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Fifth Ordinance, 2016 but is learnt to have questioned why he has been made to sign the ordinance the fifth time.
Official sources said the re-promulgation order was signed by the President late Thursday before he left for Hyderabad on a 10-day sojourn in the south. In a statement Friday, the government said the President promulgated the ordinance on Thursday.
Sources said Mukherjee wrote a note to the effect that he is clearing it only because it is a matter of importance for the country but it is not in the order of things that an ordinance should be repeatedly promulgated and the present instance should not be treated as a precedent. No ordinance has ever been promulgated five times.
The President, sources said, also sought to know reasons for the manner in which the Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed in the winter session of Parliament amid Opposition protests. After Opposition MPs met Mukherjee to bring it to his notice, the President’s Secretariat is learnt to have written to the Lok Sabha Secretariat asking how was the Bill passed and why.
On November 28, when the Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha, the government, in a statement, said: “Concerns have been raised that some of the existing provisions of the Income-Tax Act, 1961 can possibly be used for concealing black money. The Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016 has been introduced in Parliament to amend the provisions of the Act to ensure that defaulting assessees are subjected to tax at a higher rate and stringent penalty provision.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the President, ostensibly to brief him on the Cabinet decision to take the ordinance route to amend the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 to allow employers of certain industries to make payments through electronic mode and cheques. That ordinance was also signed by Mukherjee before he left on Thursday.
It was not clear whether Mukherjee raised his concerns about the enemy property ordinance at that meeting or when Home Minister Rajnath Singh met him a day earlier.
There are contentious provisions in the Bill relating to enemy property, including a retrospective clause which governments in states say will be difficult to implement. It has been hanging fire since the UPA era. When it was listed during the monsoon session this year, parties insisted on consensus. The government then chose to go ahead with the GST Bill rather than push the enemy property Bill.
The note that he has written on the enemy property ordinance is not the first time Mukherjee has signalled his discomfort with ordinances.
In January 2015, when he had already signed nine ordinances brought by the government in its first eight months, Mukherjee, while addressing students and faculty of central universities via teleconference, said ordinances should be issued only under “compelling circumstances”.
“To meet certain exigencies and under compelling circumstances, the framers of the Constitution deemed it necessary to confer limited legislative power upon the executive by way of promulgation of ordinances when the legislature is not in session and circumstances justified immediate legislation. The framers also deemed it necessary to impose certain restrictions on this extraordinary legislative power by constitutionally mandating replacement of such ordinances within a timeframe by the legislators,” Mukherjee had then said.
An ordinance automatically lapses within six weeks of a Parliament session being convened — the understanding being that any ordinance would be passed as a Bill in the ensuing Parliament session. The enemy property ordinance was to lapse this month as the winter session began on November 16.
A property belonging to, held or managed on behalf of an enemy, an enemy subject or an enemy firm is described as an enemy property.
There are 16,547 enemy properties worth Rs 1 lakh crore across India. The Union Home Ministry acts as the custodian of the enemy properties.
The government decided to amend the 1968 law after Raja of Mehmoodabad M A M Khan approached the Supreme Court to reclaim his property.
The Lok Sabha passed the amendment to the Enemy Property Act, 1968 after it was proposed earlier this year. It is pending before a parliamentary select committee after Rajya Sabha referred it to the panel. The amendment could not be passed in Rajya Sabha because many lawmakers objected, calling it an anti-people legislation.
After the 1962 Sino-Indian war, specific properties of Chinese nationals in India were vested in the custodian. Subsequently, after the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971, movable/immovable properties of Pakistani nationals automatically got vested in the custodian.
The government said Pakistan had disposed of all properties of Indians impounded by them in Pakistan, including in erstwhile East Pakistan.
An official statement said: “Taking advantage of the interpretations of various judgments passed by the courts, claims are being made to regain these properties by the legal heirs and successors of the enemy nationals. To prevent the vested properties, the ordinance for the first time was promulgated on January 7, 2016.”
“The amendments are aimed at plugging the loopholes in the principal Act to ensure that the enemy properties worth thousands of crores of rupees vested in the custodian do not revert to the enemy, enemy subject or enemy firm. Thus, in the larger public interest and to safeguard the interest of central government, the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Fifth Ordinance, 2016 (8 of 2016) has been promulgated,” it stated.