The Amended Disturbed Areas Act, that is observed to be discriminatory against the Muslim community has been assented by President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday. The amendment was passed by the Gujarat Legislative Assembly last year.
The Act bans sale of property by members of one religious community to those from another community without the prior approval of the district collector in areas declared as “disturbed areas”.
In May 2018, Disturbed Areas Act was challenged in High Court by Danish Qureshi, an activist working for minority rights.
“It is a failure of the state government if there is no communal harmony in the state and such an Act is implemented. But NCRB data states that Gujarat hasn’t seen communal violence more than other states. The situation isn’t alarmingly disturbing in Gujarat.
Besides, this Act violates the very rights guaranteed by the constitution and creates trouble for both Hindu and Muslim community in transaction deal of properties,” says Nishant Verma, the advocate who filed the petition.
“The state government has been bringing more areas under the Act not because it is necessary but because it serves the political agenda,” stated Qureshi.
“We have mentioned in our petition that a particular community has been targeted through these notifications imposing Disturbed Areas Act in certain areas. The conditions needed to impose the Act are clearly missing in these cases,” stated Kruti Shah, an Ahmedabad-based lawyer who has challenged the notification to impose Disturbed Areas Act in certain areas of Surat till the year 2021.
State minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja alleged that the amended law would stop polarisation and keep a check on attempts to cause any “demographic imbalance”.
To stop people from acquiring properties in disturbed areas through illegal means, the act proposes imprisonment between three to five years along with a fine of Rs one lakh or ten per cent of the value of the property, whichever is higher, a state government release said.
The bill was brought by the BJP government last year to amend the ‘The Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act’, 1991, commonly referred to as the Disturbed Areas Act.
The government had added some stringent provisions amid complaints from people that the current act was unable to curb the illegal sale or transfer of their properties in such notified disturbed areas.
This Act has been in force in some communally sensitive areas of the state, including in Ahmedabad and Vadodara.
As per the new provisions, the word “transfer” now includes the sale, gift, exchange, lease or taking possession of the property by way of power of attorney.
The Act also empowers the state government to form a “monitoring and advisory committee” to keep a check on the demographic structure in the disturbed areas. Such a committee can also advise the collector about various issues regarding the implementation of the act, the release said.
Under the amended act, the government can form a special investigation team (SIT) to assist the state government in forming an opinion before declaring any area to be a disturbed one. It will also assist the monitoring and advisory committee in gathering necessary information, the release added.