AS THE Lok Sabha passed the Bill to amend the Enemy Property Act 1968 on Wednesday, a BJP MP demanded that its ambit be expanded to include those convicted in sedition cases. The Opposition, meanwhile, called for the Bill to be sent to a standing committee.
The Bill to amend the Enemy Property Act and the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, was passed by a voice vote even as the Opposition suggested that it would not stand the court’s scrutiny.
Amid the ruckus, BJP’s Rajasthan MP P P Chaudhary said the Bill should include properties of those convicted in sedition cases. “To my mind, even a person who has been convicted of sedition charges, should be treated as an “enemy” and his property should be dealt with under the provisions of this Act… suitable amendments should be made,” he said.
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Opposing this, RSP MP from Kerala N K Premchandran said this would mean that JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar’s property would be taken over by the government if he is convicted.
The Bill, which was moved by Home Minister Rajnath Singh to replace the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance promulgated on January 7, proposes to deny legal heirs any right over enemy property. It gives the sole right of disposal of the property to its custodian.
The properties included in the Bill are those left behind by people who became Chinese or Pakistani nationals, after leaving India in the wake of wars fought with these countries.
“The Bill has been drafted after due consultation with the Law Ministry and Attorney General. It should not be seen through the prism of caste or religion. The properties belong to Chinese also,” said Singh, seeking to allay the Opposition’s fears that the Bill was “anti-minority”.
Singh said an ordinance had to be brought as cases were pending in court after a 2010 Supreme Court order in the Raja of Mahmudabad case, giving right over enemy property to legal heirs who are Indian citizens. He said the Bill was not too different from the one brought by UPA in 2010.
Most parties objected to the way the Bill was drafted. Barring TMC and AIADMK, all other Opposition parties wanted it to be sent to a standing committee.
“We keep debating in this House that the courts are exceeding their jurisdiction. But if we bring these kinds of legislation to the House, can we blame the courts for intervening? I say this with the greatest respect that whoever has drafted this Bill has sent out a standing invitation to the courts to interfere… and to stay the operation of this Bill,” said BJD’s Pinaki Mishra.
Mishra raised objection to Section 18B of the Bill that says that no civil court or other authority shall entertain any suit or other proceeding in respect of any enemy property.
“You cannot take away the jurisdiction of civil courts entirely. In 50 years, hundreds of transactions have taken place. You want to nullify all these transactions and you give them no recourse in law. Can this Parliament ever enact this kind of a nonsensical law? This is an invitation for a writ petition to be filed immediately under Article 226 of the Constitution and it is going to be stayed on day one,” he said.
“The Bill will, it seems to me, adversely affect the rights of lakhs of Indian citizens and principally — let us call a spade a spade — of the Muslim community. After all, there are not too many Chinese properties at stake. It is essentially properties of those who went to Pakistan, and that tends to be from only one community, and this is, to my mind, not only borderline and unconstitutional — the court should determine that — but also against the basic principles of natural justice,” said Congress’s Shashi Tharoor.
“The UPA Bill permits India-born legal heirs to claim such properties on condition that they establish their status to the satisfaction of the government whereas the NDA’s Bill bars all laws and customs governing succession to property from being applicable to so-called enemy property,” said Tharoor.
“In the UPA version, the courts have the power to adjudicate on the question of whether a property is an enemy property or not… the NDA, version says, no, the Executive will decide if a property is enemy property. The judiciary will have no say in the matter. The government, in effect, is promoting arbitrariness and interfering with the function of the judiciary,” he said.
AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi said the Bill was “anti-minority”. “You are creating two kinds of Indian citizens. This piece of legislation clearly says that anyone who belongs to the minority community will not have recourse to law. This is the message that you are sending if this august House passes this law, whereas the Constitution guarantees me right to equality before law. Your legislation is anti-minority.”