By approving the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Second Bill, 2010, the Union cabinet has made a positive step towards resolving a long vexed issue. The Enemy Property Act, 1968, was enacted in the aftermath of the 1965 Indo-Pak war to empower the government to take over properties that belonged to those who had migrated to Pakistan. A similar law was enacted in Pakistan with respect to properties belonging to those who migrated to India. Over the last 50 years, the law continued to stand in the way of bona fide Indian citizens seeking to inherit properties that belonged to their ancestors.
The most famous case was that of the Raja of Mehmoodabad. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in the Raja's favour and instructed the government to divest his properties worth hundreds of crores of rupees to his son, the lawful heir and an Indian citizen. However, unlike the scion of the Mehmoodabad royal family, there are hundreds of people who are still fighting legal cases in courts across the country to claim their ancestral properties.
It is in this context that the proposed amendment Bill is significant. Its passage in Parliament would end years of indecision and acrimony surrounding so-called enemy properties and help people move on from the legacy of Partition. It is patently absurd to deny citizens of this country inheritance rights over their ancestral properties just because their ancestors had migrated to Pakistan. Thousands of people on both sides were displaced during Partition. It is high time that painful chapter is closed permanently.
The proposed law is balanced in its approach as it seeks to uphold judicial rulings on title suits filed before July 2 this year, but bars any future litigation on the matter the latter provision being needed to guard against dubious claimants. Having been vested in a government-appointed custodian since 1968, enemy properties have become a means of furthering patronage and thereby a hot-button political issue. Earlier in July, the government had passed an ordinance to perpetuate its custodianship over enemy properties. However, ruling by fiat not only sets a bad precedent but also does not provide a permanent solution to the issue. Instead of indulging in narrow politics, all political parties should work to ensure the passage of the Bill and bring the matter to a close.