Government’s nod to changes in enemy property act

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NEW DELHI - The government Wednesday cleared changes to an over 40-year-old legislation for Indian Muslims - if they are legal heirs - to claim the properties of relatives who migrated to Pakistan during partition in 1947, but barred courts from passing any ruling related to the issue.

The amendments to the Enemy Property Act, 1968, will now have to be cleared by parliament in the upcoming winter session after the nod by the union cabinet in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here.

The union cabinet approved the proposal to introduce the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Second Bill, 2010 and amend the Enemy Property Act, 1968, an official statement said.

According to the amendments, the enemy property, as it is legally called, “could be divested only to the owner or his (or her) lawful heir”. According to the original law, the government as the custodian of all such properties had the right to rent them out to anybody.

The changes if approved by parliament would ease the way for an Indian Muslim who is a legal inheritor of such property to get ownership rights. But the claimant will have to legally prove his or her inheritance and should be an Indian citizen by birth.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram had attempted to table amendments to the act in the monsoon session of parliament. He couldn’t because of repeated pleas and lobbying by MPs, including some ministers, from various parties who thought that the interests of Muslim heirs were not being protected.

There are over 2,000 such properties in India, mostly in Uttar Pradesh, that have been vested in the Custodian of Enemy Property in India under the provisions of the Enemy Property Act, 1968, promulgated following the war with Pakistan in 1965.

The Custodian of Enemy Property comes under the home ministry and has powers to appropriate and look after such properties which are now occupied either by tenants or serve as government offices.

The changes come in the wake of a series of judgments by various courts that eroded the powers of the government of the enemy property. But the government through the new amendments made it clear that “no court can order divestment from the custodian or direct the government to divest any such property”.

In other words, it prevents family members of those who migrated to Pakistan from going to court to regain possession of the property of their ancestors.

The government is authorised to direct the custodian to sell or dispose of enemy properties in such manner as may be prescribed, the bill says.

The amendments also say that if the such property was divested without the government’s approval before July 2, 2010, it shall stand transferred and continue to be vested with the custodian.

But if the property was divested as per a “valid order” approved by the government prior to July 2, 2010 or was returned to the owner or his or her lawful heir by an order of the court, such property will continue to remain with such person, according to the amendments.

The bill also asserts that the transfer of any such property shall not include any transfer or any claim of transfer made through “oral will or oral gift or if it has been done without the permission of the competent authority”.

Filed under: Immigration, India, Pakistan

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