Found, lost and found again

Enemy property tussle in Mehmoodabad

Found, lost and found again

For the erstwhile Raja of Mehmoodabad, the developments in the last few decades must have been reminiscent of the famous snakes and ladders game.

For him, it has been virtually a touch-and-go affair so far as his properties, running into thousands of crores of
rupees, are concerned.

Mehmoodabad, a sleepy but historical town, is about 40 km from Lucknow. Ameer Mohammad Khan has been waging a relentless battle at various levels to regain the properties he inherited from his father, which, according to an estimate, run into thousands of crores.

Khan’s properties include several palatial bungalows and shops in Lucknow and other towns in Uttar Pradesh, grand palaces in his native town of Mehmoodabad and a star hotel in the hill town of Nainital in Uttarakhand.

Incidentally, almost all his properties had tenants. Many of them also housed the magistrates and chiefs of police like in Sitapur and Lakhimpur-Kheri districts. But they were vacated after a major victory for Mohammad Khan in 2005.

Most of the properties are in poor shape and only a few buildings have caretakers. After Mohammad Khan won his first major battle, tenants also stopped spending on keeping them neat and tidy. Now,

Mohammad Khan will have to spend huge amounts to restore the buildings. Mohammad’s father, Raja Ameer Ahmed Khan was among the founders of the Muslim League and a close associate of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It is believed that he used to bankroll the League.

Ameer Ahmed Khan was in favour of the creation of a separate state of Pakistan and left India to settle down in Pakistan in 1957 though his wife Begum Kaneez Abidi and their son Ameer Mohammad Khan preferred to stay back in India.

Ameer Ahmed Khan later migrated to Iraq and then to London, where he breathed his last in 1973. After Ameer Ahmed Khan’s migration to Pakistan, the government declared all his properties as ‘enemy property’ and confiscated them.

Mohammad Khan, who has been staying in  London for the last few decades, had won from Mehmoodabad Assembly constituency in 1985,  mainly on the goodwill enjoyed by the family in the area. After his first electoral success, he did not hit the rough and tumble again.

Khan junior had made representations to the  Centre seeking to re-gain possession of the properties on the ground that he was the legal heir of Ameer Ahmed Khan and that he had chosen to stay back in India.

After his attempts to get relief from the Union Government did not yield results, the ‘Raja’ preferred to approach the judiciary and moved the civil court in Lucknow in 1984. The lower court declared Khan the rightful owner of some of the properties and thereafter Khan approached the Mumbai High Court with a writ petition against the custodian of enemy properties.

The High Court had allowed the petition and  directed the custodian to hand over possession of the properties. The Centre, however, chose to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.

The apex court in 2005 gave its verdict by which it entitled him to all properties that were seized by the government after migration of his father to Pakistan. The court agreed with Khan’s plea that he was entitled to re-claim his father’s properties as he had chosen not to migrate to Pakistan and had stayed back in India.

The order of the apex triggered panic in the state capital, where some of the precious properties were located, and the nearby districts as well as far away in Uttarakhand. As the government officials, who were in possession of the bungalows, dithered and delayed the implementation of the court order, Khan filed a contempt petition in the apex court following which the officials hastily vacated the properties.

The court order, however, triggered resentment among the hundreds of his tenants and many of them also claimed that they could not be evicted as they had been tenants before the properties were seized by the custodian in 1965.

The government, in the meantime, apparently fearing that the courts would be flooded with petitions seeking possession of such properties, amended the Enemy Properties Act, 1962 through an ordinance.

The ordinance provides that the courts cannot  alter the status of any property that was once declared enemy property. The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill 2010 was slated to be tabled in the ongoing session of Parliament to replace the
ordinance.

As a result of the ordinance, the ‘Raja’s  fortunes’ were lost again as the government officials, on the direction of the custodian of enemy properties, took possession of his properties.

While the amendment was greeted by a large  number of tenants, including the shop owners, the erstwhile nawabs of Awadh and the Muslim clergy strongly criticised the same.

“The ordinance is unjust... it has hurt the sentiment of the Muslims as those who did not go to Pakistan have also been dubbed enemies”, said Ameer Taki Khan, the cousin of Ameer Mohammad Khan.

On the other hand, one of the tenants said that it had upheld the rights of hundreds of occupants of the properties. “At last the almighty listened to our prayers”, said Shakira, a tenant in Malka Jamania Imambara.

Just when it appeared that Khan would lose everything, came a ray hope. According to reports, the  Centre has shelved the plan to table the bill owing to the strong opposition to the amendment by the Muslim MPs. The bill could be allowed to lapse in due course of time or may be amended.

And then the ‘Raja’ would once again get back his properties, which would obviously be a big victory for him though the hundreds of his decades old tenants would feel otherwise.

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