On 7 January 2016, the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, promulgated an ordinance amending the Enemy Property Act of 1968. The Enemy Property Validation and Amendment Bill, 2016 is currently under consideration by parliament. The act was originally promulgated in 1968 after India’s 1965 war with Pakistan. Along with the Enemy Property Act, the bill amends the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971. It replaced the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2016, which was scheduled to lapse in April 2016. On 13 August, the president promulgated the ordinance for a fourth time.
During the wars of 1962—with China—and the 1965 and 1971 conflicts with Pakistan, the government designated certain properties belonging to citizens of these as “enemy properties.” When the war with China broke out in 1962, the government had issued an enemy property registration order. In 1968, the order was replaced by the enemy property act. According to the act, “enemy property” could include properties of persons who are believed to be a citizens of a state classified as an enemy state by to the Indian government. The government vested these properties in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India, an office instituted under it. The 1968 Act regulates these enemy properties, and lists the powers of the custodian. Apart from managing the property, the custodian can declare any property to be enemy property and seize it, and order the sale of the property. Lastly, in court cases filed by the individuals to reclaim the property, it is the custodian who opposes the property’s return. The current ordinance expands the definition of “enemies” to include the legal heirs of those declared enemies—even if the heirs are citizens of India, or of another country that is not an enemy.
But many of the people affected by this law are, in fact, victims—of fate, their destiny, Partition and now, government action. Is the law meant to provide justice or to identify enemies of the state? The spirit of this law is to take over the property of the alleged enemies of the state, but in reality, it is a means to brand certain individuals as “enemies,” and to use their claim to property as a proof of their “enemy” status.
The enemy property act has gained notoriety for properties still being under the control of the custodian even after the wars have ended. It also raises the questions of justice, as private property cannot be seized indefinitely—this is in conflict with the fundamental rights to property, and does not tackle the question of the fate of individuals who are Indian citizens, but yet were deemed as enemies because their forefathers took the citizenship of Pakistan.
Thousands have been affected by the legislation. For instance, in December 1957, Mohammad Amir Ahmed Khan, then the Raja of Mahmudabad—located in present-day Uttar Pradesh—emigrated to Pakistan and became a Pakistani citizen. His wife, Rani Kaniz Abid, and their son, Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan, did not emigrate, and remained in India as Indian nationals. The family continued to be active in Uttar Pradesh politics. When the war broke out in 1965, the provisions of the order were extended to Pakistan, and the Mahmudabad property was taken over by the union government. In 2013, 2,111 properties had been identified as “enemy.” By 2015, their number rose to 14,759—showing that the number of properties being declared “enemy” continues to rise even though we are not at war with our neighbours.