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After Manmohan steps in, ‘enemy property' ordinance will be allowed to lapse

Smita Gupta

New Delhi: The UPA government has withdrawn its efforts to push through a new law that would throw into question the possession of ancestral property by citizens whose parents or grandparents migrated to Pakistan after partition. The decision to keep the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2010 in abeyance was taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, official sources said, after a cross-party delegation of prominent Muslim MPs met him on Wednesday and registered its protest at the draft.

Sources in the delegation said the Prime Minister, after hearing them out, “consulted” Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on the matter and a decision was then taken to back off. An ordinance currently in operation will be allowed to lapse on July 28, the last date by which it must be replaced by an Act of Parliament.

Those who met Dr. Singh included Union Minister for New and Renewable energy Farooq Abdullah (National Conference), Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed (Congress), Union Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed (Trinamool Congress), Union Minister of State for Railways E. Ahamed (Muslim League), Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson K. Rehman Khan, Rajya Sabha member and Congress general secretary Mohsina Kidwai, and Rajya Sabha members Naznin Faruque, Ahmad Sayeed Malihabadi and Mohammad Adeeb.

The Bill, had it been passed, would have prevented Indian family members of those who migrated to Pakistan at the time of Partition from going to court to regain possession of the property of their forefathers that had been seized as “enemy property” and had been vested in a custodian. The government's keenness to pass the Bill was demonstrated by the fact that it had got the President to promulgate an ordinance on July 2, which means it is currently in operation. The Enemy Property Bill, 2010 was intended to replace this ordinance amending an Act of 1968 to contend with court judgments that “adversely affected the powers” of the custodians and the Government of India.

At Wednesday's meeting, the MPs told Dr. Singh that they requested him to examine the Bill as it would have “a politically adverse impact on a large number of families in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Maharashtra.” It would be “putting the clock back to 1968,” an MP said, “as many people had ordered their lives based on court verdicts and it would serve no public purpose to unsettle them.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Bill, that had been introduced by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Maken in the Lok Sabha on August 2, was listed to come up for consideration and passage. But after some prominent Muslim MPs raised an outcry, the discussion was deferred.

The government, according to North Block sources, was forced to promulgate an ordinance to bring an end to the rash of appeals in various High Courts seeking repossession of properties held by the custodian, triggered off by the Supreme Court order restoring the properties of the Rajah of Mehmoodabad to his heir, Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan.

Various interpretations

When Mr. Maken moved the Bill, he had said that the courts had given various interpretations to the 1968 Act as a result of which the custodians were finding it difficult to sustain their occupation of such properties. But Muslim MPs felt that many such properties owned by those living in India had been wrongly taken over by the custodian on the assumption that their owners had migrated to Pakistan. Such properties had been under litigation for decades, but now the Rajah Mehmoodabad case had created a precedent for many Muslims to cite and recover their properties from the custodian.

According to one estimate, there are over 2,000 such properties across India, with 55 in Lucknow.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the impact of the ordinance was already being felt: the Raja of Mehmoodabad, who had won possession of his ancestral properties, worth hundreds of crores, after a 32-year court battle in October 2005, lost them all over again, when the Lucknow district administration formally took possession of six of his properties, as directed by the Custodian of Enemy Properties under the Union Home Ministry.

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