President Ram Nath Kovind has given his assent to a Bill passed by the Gujarat Assembly last year, which made some important amendments to The Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provisions of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, a controversial law that is popularly known as the ‘Disturbed Areas Act’.
What is the Disturbed Areas Act?
Under the Disturbed Areas Act, a district Collector can notify a particular area of a city or town as a “disturbed area”. This notification is generally done based on the history of communal riots in the area.
Following this notification, the transfer of immovable property in the disturbed area can take place only after the Collector expressly signs off on an application made by the buyer and the seller of the property. In the application, the seller has to attach an affidavit stating that she/he has sold the property of her/his free volition, and that she/he has got a fair market price.
Violation of the Act’s provisions, that is, if property in a notified disturbed area is transferred without the Collector’s permission, invites imprisonment and a fine. The state government claims it is aiming to check communal polarisation of various parts of the state through the Act.
Why did the government amend the Act?
As per the Gujarat government, the Bill to amend the Act was brought in after a large number of complaints were received from MLAs and other people about individuals who had skirted the provisions of the Act by taking advantage of legal loopholes in it. It was argued that this could potentially lead to the communal polarisation of a particular locality.
In the earlier version of the Act, the district Collector had to ensure, on the basis of an affidavit by the seller, that she/he had sold the property of her/his own free will, and that she/he had got the fair market price for it.
However, there were reports of anti-social elements selling and buying properties after either threatening people or luring them with higher prices, in areas marked as “disturbed”. It was reported that at times, these elements had got transfers done even without the Collector’s prior permission by getting the 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 had resulted in clustering or polarisation of localities.
To plug such loopholes, and to increase the punishment for the violation of the Act as deterrence, the amendment Bill was presented and passed in the Gujarat Assembly in July last year.
What are the key provisions in the Amended Act?
* The amended Act gives the Collector more powers to ascertain if there is a likelihood of “polarisation” or “improper clustering” of persons belonging to a particular community, thus disturbing the demographic equilibrium in the area. Also, the state government is now authorised to review a decision taken by the Collector.
* A provision has been made for the creation of a special investigation team (SIT) or committee to probe these aspects. In municipal corporation areas, the SIT will comprise the concerned Collector, Municipal Commissioner, and Police Commissioner as members. In areas other than municipal corporations, the SIT will have the Collector, Superintendent of Police, and Regional Municipal Commissioner as members.
* The amended Act enables the state government to form an advisory committee that will advise it on various aspects of the DA Act, including adding new areas to the ‘disturbed areas’ list. Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja has said that the advisory committee will be formed after the Rules of the Act are framed.
* The amendment has added a provision to the original Act that gives the state government supervisory authority to review the Collector’s decision related to the Act, even if there is no appeal filed against the same. Jadeja said that formation of the supervisory authority will be done while framing the Rules for the amended Act.
* To check the registration of transfer of properties in disturbed areas without the Collector’s prior approval, the amended Act has a provision to enlarge the scope of the 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 Act has amended the Registration Act under which no property in disturbed areas can be registered without prior sanction of the Collector.
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* Redevelopment of the property is allowed only if it is for the owner’s purpose. But if the owner is planning to bring new people on the redeveloped property, she/he has to take the permission of the Collector.
* The provisions of the Act will not be applicable to the government’s rehabilitation schemes in a disturbed area, where it resettles displaced people.
* As per the government, earlier only those areas which had witnessed (communal) riots would be notified as ‘disturbed areas’. However, now, the government can notify any area as ‘disturbed area’ where it sees the possibility of a communal riot, or where it sees the possibility of a particular community’s polarisation. In Vadodara, two cases of property transfers in a single area have been challenged in the Gujarat High Court.
What are the penal provisions for violation in the amended Act?
The punishment for the violation of the Act was earlier imprisonment for six months and fine up to Rs 10,000. The amendment has increased the punishment to imprisonment between three and five years. The fine has also been increased to Rs 1 lakh, or 10% of the jantri rate (ready reckoner of property prices in different parts of the state) of the property, 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.
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