The Gujarat government imposed the ‘Disturbed Areas Act’ in wards 1 to 12 of Surat city as well as in several residential colonies within the Bapod police station limits in Vadodara. Since the act has been imposed, the owners of land and other immovable properties in these areas would have to seek the permission of the collector before selling their assets, an official release issued here said.
Sangita Patil, a BJP MLA from Surat, had recently demanded the imposition of the ‘Disturbed Areas Act’ in her constituency, Limbayat, to “prevent Muslims from acquiring residential properties of Hindus”. Sangita Patil, a BJP MLA from Surat, had recently demanded the imposition of the ‘Disturbed Areas Act’ in her constituency, Limbayat, to “prevent Muslims from acquiring residential properties of Hindus.” Patil had sent her written request for the imposition of the Act to the district collector after Hindu residents of the Limbayat area of Surat city made several representations on the issue.
The act — The Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, 1991— which is already in force in various parts of the state, including in Vadodara, seeks to check transfer of properties in communally sensitive areas, which are officially described as “disturbed areas”. The act requires prior consent of the collector to sell property.
The state government says the law is meant to protect Muslims, who account for just under 10% of the state’s 60 million people. “It prevents ethnic cleansing and people being forced out,” a senior government official who requested anonymity.
Critics say the Act’s continued enforcement and the addition of new districts covered by it—about 40% of Ahmedabad is now governed by the law—means it is effectively being applied as a tool of social engineering. The Gujarat high court in a 2012 case questioned the state government’s use of the act to block the sale of properties by Hindus to Muslims.
The Indian Express newspaper said in a recent editorial: “More Muslims and Hindus have moved into separate spaces in Gujarat, finding trust and assurance only among neighbours of their own community, and it has ended up entrenching segregation and shutting Muslims out of the mainstream.”
Sale of properties in localities with mixed Hindu-Muslim population is forbidden under the Disturbed Areas Act-1991 not only in Ahmedabad but also in Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot and several other places in the state. Despite the law, sale of properties in these restricted areas is rampant.
There are instances when Hindu outfits or BJP local leaders campaign for invoking the law to prevent the sale of property to Muslims. In last July, the local Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Bhavnagar publicly campaigned, did sit-ins after a Muslim purchased property in Hindu-dominated Gita Chowk. While the sale was completed, and the Hindu owner had refused to back out, VHP mounted public pressure to ensure that the Muslim would not occupy the property and sell it back to a Hindu.
The VHP wanted to invoke the Disturbed Areas act in Bhavnagar to prevent such sale of properties to Muslims.
What now everyone understands and accepts in Gujarat is that a Disturbed Area is one with an overwhelming presence of Muslims, and that there is a law that prevents any property transaction between Hindus and Muslims in areas where they could have lived together. And this, governments of all hues and ideological bents have argued, is to ensure a fair deal for the buyer and seller and thus maintain social order.
(Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior journalist based in Ahmedabad. He is Editor of Gujarat Siyasat.)