ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Refugee Legal Challenges to Bombay Government’s Land Requisition Housing Scheme

Partition refugees who arrived in India challenged the laws that various provincial governments enacted to “regulate” and “rehabilitate” them. By looking at one of the earliest and key cases concerning writs that emerged out of Sindhi refugee legal challenges to the Bombay government’s land requisition scheme of 1947–48, this article suggests that partition refugees helped to shape the legal and constitutional landscape of newly independent India.

Partition led to the Indian government enacting a gamut of laws. There were laws to “regulate” the further “influx” of refugees and laws to ensure that those intending to emigrate had paid their taxes in full (Sundaram 1951: 135–36). Likewise, the provinces legislated apace to regulate refugees to “maintain public order,” and to forcibly evict1 and “disperse” refugees (Chatterji 2007a). Partition refugees challenged this legislation, bringing some of the earliest cases in independent India to the higher courts, just before and after India adopted its new constitution.

Bombay city and the wider Bombay state received Sindhi Hindu refugees, where they arrived in their largest numbers. The Bombay government enacted the Bombay Refugees’ Act, 1948, the Bombay Land Requisition Ordinance, 1947, which later became the Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948, and the Displaced Persons Premises Control and Regulation Act, 1952, in response to their arrival. The refugees initiated litigation to challenge all these acts. This body of refugee-initiated case law offers us an insight both into the lives of refugees, and into how government implemented “rehabilitation” policies in the aftermath of partition. Although the Bombay government’s legislation concerning refugees was severely criticised by the upper-most echelons of Sindhi society, the cases challenging the legislation were often brought by those who had limited resources, either by those in the refugee camps (Sanwaldas Gobindram v State of Bombay and another 1953) or middle-class refugees.

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Updated On : 25th Jan, 2018

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