It is not clear if Home Minister P. Chidambaram expected the shrill campaign that followed the promulgation of the Enemy Property (Amendment & Validation) Ordinance 2010 last month. But he certainly couldn’t have expected any bouquets.
At the heart of the now-controversial Ordinance was an attempt to restore the central government’s control over at least 2,186 properties in prime locations mainly in Delhi, Lucknow and Kolkata and thousands of acres of agricultural land elsewhere — under the Enemy Property Act 1968.
These properties had been taken over from people who had migrated to Pakistan at the time of Independence or anytime thereafter. They also included properties owned by Pakistani nationals that were taken over by the government following the 1965 war.
But the Supreme Court practically struck down the basic principles of the Enemy Property Act in 2005, ruling that a piece of property ceased to be enemy property if the legal successor of the “enemy subject” (person from whom the property was taken over) was an Indian citizen.
The most famous beneficiary of the Supreme Court verdict was Amir Mohammad Khan, former Raja of Mehmoodabad in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district. At one stroke, Khan, who had stayed back in India when his father migrated to Pakistan in 1956, regained ownership and control of prime properties worth thousands of crores in UP, Uttarakhand and Delhi.
In defence of the Ordinance, the government has pointed out several cases where encroachers and distant relatives of the original owner(s) had filed cases and got orders in their favour since 2005.
Chidambaram has made it clear that he would have to act against such people, but has said he is willing to consider relaxing the law for citizens who can prove that they are direct legal heirs or successors of the “enemy subject”, such as the Raja of Mehmoodabad.
The government is likely to seek amendments to the Bill that would replace the Ordinance, which lapses on August 28, in the current session of Parliament, but till it is passed, the fate of property worth thousands of crores will hang in the balance.