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Property owners in Old Delhi harassed

Half a century after independence and partition some Muslims are still victims to laws framed at the time to take over properties of Muslims who migrated to Pakistan. During the last 18 months about 500 Muslim property owners of Old Delhi have been issued notices under sections of Enemy Property Act (EPA) 1968 which was promulgated under the Defence of India Rules (DIR) 1965 and 1971. These notices have been issued by the local sub-divisional magistrates (SDMs). The property owners have been asked to pay rent to the government contending that the properties they occupy belong to Pakistani nationals.

‘It is a question of my very identity,’ says Dr Anisul Haq, a dentist in Chandni Chowk. ‘Who should I say I am? I was born here and I will die here’ he says. Dr Haq was served a notice in 1982 on his ancestral property in Farrashkhana . His case is now in the Supreme Court. ‘I have spent more money than I earned,’ he says.

‘It is a well-oiled extortion racket. There is no way to satisfy the authorities. They have refused to honour even identity cards, ration cards and voter lists.’, alleged Mr Zameer Ahmad Jumlana, president of the Delhi unit of the Indian National League (INL) who has been campaigning on behalf of the victims.

The matter was raised by Saifuddin Soz and GM Banatwala in the Lok Sabha. Responding to the question, the home minister LK Advani, said that notices had been issued only to 12 enemy properties to ascertain the status of the owners and not to question their nationality. He said that the SDMs had been directed not to harass any person. 

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) feels that Mr Advani’s figures are not correct. According to the Commission, the number of such properties is 28.

Sources in Old Delhi told The Milli Gazette that there is a contradiction between two lists of enemy properties, one from the EAP and the other from the ministry of commerce.

Another person, Shaikh Muhammad Haroon, 65, residing in Sadar Bazar, was notified by G Sudhakar, SDM, Sadar Bazar, in 1997. In response to the notice, SM Haroon produced the ownership order, which was earlier issued to him by the High Court, to prove his ownership. But Mr Sudhakar filed a FIR against him for misleading the court with fake documents.

Properties of the Waqf Board are also at stake. Syed Abdul Hamid has a small shop at Bartan Market in Sadar Bazar. He hired the shop from Abdul Razzaq, to whom the Waqf Board had entrusted the property’s management. Hamid received a notice in December 1997 asking him to prove the status of the occupanto be corrctedt of the ‘enemy property.’

Another such Waqf property is the Musafirkhana (rest house) at Ballimaran. Ghulam Kibriya, a descendant of the great physician and former Congress president, Hakim Ajmal Khan, passed it on to Maulana Farooq Wasfi in 1974. Wasfi rented the area outside the Musafirkhana to shopkeepers to raise money for its maintenance. The tenants were notified. But they, in return, challenged the notices of the SDM in the High Court in 1997. The Court has since stayed government orders.

In a move to resolve the issue, Mirza Ashfaq Baig, general secretary, Public Welfare Society of Kucha Pandit, Delhi, and Jumlana, petitioned the NCM against alleged harassment to Muslim property owners in the historic walled city by Raj Kumar, SDM, Daryaganj.

The petitioners alleged that the notices are intended to harass the Muslim property owners, as they are neither bearing any number nor quoting any law. It is alleged that it is because of extracting money from Muslim property owners in the old city. Sources in Old Delhi told this newspaper that these owners were asked to appear before the said magistrate and prove the bona fide Indian nationality of their forefathers or previous owners. It is also alleged that notices were served through police by knocking their doors at midnight.

Responding to the said petition, the NCM, on 24 November 24 decided to take up the issue with the chief secretary, National Capital Territory of Delhi. The Commission also called explanation from the SDM concerned.

Explaining the matter to the NCM on 25 January 1999, the SDM, Daryaganj, wrote that the purpose of such notices was to establish the status of the occupants of the ‘Enemy Property’. The said SDM further explained that he issued only 34 notices in response to the references received from the Custodian of Enemy Property (CEP), seeking report about these properties. But when the commission asked him to send the same, he could furnish only 17 references. The SDM also denied any attempt to question the nationality of any Muslim or serving of notices at midnight. He also denied the existence of any extortion racket. He, however, admitted that notices were served through police which is not a usual practice.

Finding the SDM’s explanation not satisfactory, the NCM asked the CEP and Ministry of Commerce to furnish the number of suspected ‘enemy properties’ in Delhi and the time period that they would take in deciding the status of such properties. In response, the CEP dispatched a list of 28 suspected properties to the commission. It was found that the CEP has neither any prescribed format for issuing notices nor any framed rules under the Enemy Property Act 1968.

It is alleged that when the commission requested the divisional commissioner, SP Aggarwal, for details of the matter, he forwarded the same report prepared by the SDM (Daryaganj).

Sources told The Milli Gazette that the lacunae in the Property Act 1968 as not defining the time-limit for determining a property as an enemy property and the ‘guidelines’ issued by the CEP authorizing local administration to initiate steps to ensure that all undetected enemy property would be detected, has been the crux of entire case. The NCM has, in its annual report 1998-99, recommended that the Enemy Property Act 1968 is wholly outdated and deserves to be repealed.

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