March 15, 2017

Parliament Passes Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016


On March 14, the parliament passed an amendment to a 49-year old Act to prevent successors of people who migrated to Pakistan and China during partition from holding any claim to properties left behind in India.

In this regard, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “it will be natural justice if the properties of those who have gone to Pakistan are not returned as Pakistan has seized the properties of Indian citizens.”

The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, which amends the Enemy Property Act, 1968 and has been pending for a long time (five ordinances were promulgated during this period), was passed by voice vote in the Lok Sabha, incorporating the amendments made by the Rajya Sabha. The Lower House had passed the bill earlier, but the Rajya Sabha introduced more amendments following the recommendations of a select committee. The amendments passed to the 1968 Act will be effective retrospectively.

N.K. Premachandran, Revolutionary Socialist Party member and Member of Parliament from Kollam Lok Sabha constituency in the current (16th Indian parliament), had moved a statutory amendment seeking to introduce clarity with regard to those properties that had already been acquired by the heirs of enemy property owners, a reference to nationals of Pakistan and China.

Although there was no opposition to the amendments in the Lok Sabha, Premachandran asked whether the amendments could stand judicial scrutiny as the rights accrued by people since 1968 would be taken away because of the provision to implement the law retrospectively.

Regarding the statements made by Premachandran, the home minister said that Premachandran was making “too many assumptions.”

As several MPs expressed apprehensions that this provision could lead to litigation, Singh said, “Parliament and state legislatures have the power to formulate law... I do not see any adverse impact of retrospective amendment. As and when the situation arises, we will deal with it.”

According to the bill, “Enemy property” refers to any property belonging to, held, or managed on behalf of an enemy, an enemy subject, or an enemy firm. The government has vested such properties in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India (an Indian government department that is empowered to appropriate property in India owned by Pakistani nationals).

Singh further added that “The purpose of the bill is to clarify the 1968 Act. Inheritance law will not be applicable on enemy property... This will put an end to the long-pending issue that should have ideally happened in 2010 when the bill was introduced.”

The amendments to the bill were brought in the wake of a claim laid by heirs of Raja Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan on his properties spread across Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The matter is before the Supreme Court.

Some Opposition MPs claimed that the move was against the principle of natural justice and amounted to human rights violation. In this regard, Singh said, “I wonder how it is against the principle of natural justice. Pakistan has seized the properties of Indian citizens... It will be natural justice if their property is not returned.” Singh further added that there will be no human rights violation as legal tenants will be protected under the Tenancy Act. Singh then said that such properties worth thousands of crores of rupees have been identified and the process is still on.

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