On July 8, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provisions for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas (Amendment) Bill, 2019 by a majority vote, introducing significant amendments to the parent Act of 1991, better known as the Disturbed Areas (DA) Act.
What is Disturbed Areas Act?
Under the Disturbed Areas Act, the concerned Collector notifies a particular area of a city or town as ‘disturbed area’. Following this notification, the sale of property in those areas requires express permission of the Collector after an application by the buyer and seller of an immovable property. In the application, the seller has to attach an affidavit stating that he has sold the property of his/her free volition and that he/she has got the fair market price.
In violation of transfer of property sans the Collector’s permission, the accused persons are liable to six months’ imprisonment and Rs 1000 fine.
Why did the government amend the Act?
Introducing the Bill in Assembly, senior cabinet minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama said that the government had received large scale complaints from MLAs and others of people skirting the provisions of the Act by taking advantage of the legal loopholes in it. In the earlier Act, the Collector had to only see that the seller is selling the property of his free volition and if he/she has got fair market price on the basis of the latter’s affidavit.
However, it was realised that at a number of places in disturbed areas, some anti-social elements were selling and buying properties by threatening people or luring them with higher price. At times these elements got it done even without the Collector’s prior permission by getting transfer deed registered under the provisions of the Registration Act in which the Collector’s prior sanction under the DA Act was not required. This was resulting in clustering or polarisation of localities.
To plug the legal loopholes and to make the Act stringent, the latest Amendment Bill has been brought in by the Gujarat government.
What are the amendments?
Currently, the Collector has to give the permission for the transfer of property following an affidavit by the seller that he/she is selling the property of his/her free volition and that he/she has got fair value of the same. Now, the Bill proposes to give the Collector more powers to ascertain if there is a likelihood of ‘polarization’ or ‘improper clustering’ of the persons belonging to a particular community causing disturbance in the demographical equilibrium of the persons belonging to different communities residing in the area.
For probing these aspects, the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) has also been envisaged in the amendment Bill. In municipal corporation areas, the SIT will have concerned Collector, Municipal Commissioner and Police Commissioner as members. Whereas, in areas other than municipal corporations, the SIT will have Collector, Superintendent of Police and Regional Municipal Commissioner as members.
To check registration of transfer of properties in disturbed areas without availing the Collector’s prior approval, the Bill proposes to enlarge the scope of term ‘transfer’ and include transfer of right, title or interest in or over such property in disturbed areas by way of sale, gift, exchange and lease. To achieve this goal, the Bill proposes to amend the Registration Act under which no property in disturbed areas can be registered without prior sanction of the Collector.
Under the Bill, redevelopment of property is allowed, if it is for the owner’s purpose only. But, if the owner is planning to bring new people on the redeveloped property, then he/she has to take permission of the Collector.
The Bill also proposes to give powers to the Gujarat government to constitute an Advisory Committee which will advise the government on various aspects of the Act that include adding new areas to the ‘disturbed areas’ list. In addition to this, the state government has been given Supervisory Authority on the issue under which it can review any order of any Collector in the state related to the Act.
What are the current and proposed penal provisions for violation of the DA Act?
Currently, the violation of the Act’s provisions attracts imprisonment for six months and fine upto Rs 10,000. The Amendment proposes to increase the punishment significantly, upto six years imprisonment and fine of Rs 1 lakh or the jantri (ready reckoner of property prices in different areas of the state) rate whichever is higher.
Which are the areas where the DA Act is currently applicable in Gujarat?
The DA Act is applicable in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Himmatnagar, Godhra, Kapadvanj and Bharuch. The addition to the current disturbed areas was last done in Bharuch in November 2018.
Has the focus of DA Act’s objective changed?
The DA Act was first introduced in Ahmedabad in 1986. At that time, due to large scale and continuous riots in Ahmedabad city, a number of walled-city areas started witnessing distress sale of properties mainly by people of a particular community. And to check this, the then Gujarat government led by Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel had brought in an ordinance. Later, it was converted into the DA Act in 1991.
Now, however, the focus of the Act has changed from checking distress sale of properties to checking polarisation of disturbed areas through transfer of properties by alleged coercive means.
Members of Opposition Congress opposed the Bill alleging that the ruling BJP is targeting the Muslim community through the Act. However, the Gujarat government is denying these allegations while stating that the Act does not talk about any particular community and it applies to people of all beliefs in disturbed areas. The government has also been saying that the Act is there to maintain peace and tranquility in areas which are prone to communal flare up.
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