By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI, April 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A fresh row has erupted in a decades-long dispute between Delhi and Islamabad over the fate of a bungalow in Mumbai once owned by Pakistan's founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, with an Indian lawmaker calling for it to be labelled "enemy property".
Famed for its Italian marble and walnut-wood panelling, Jinnah House, as it is known locally, has been controlled by the Indian government since Jinnah moved to the country he helped create. Pakistan has long claimed ownership of the building.
Relations between the two countries remain fraught after numerous conflicts since partition and independence from Britain in 1947, and the Jinnah House has been a bone of contention for decades.
Indian lawmaker Mangal Prabhat Lodha last week said the government must declare the bungalow "enemy property", and hand over the building to Maharashtra state where it is located.
The country spends millions of rupees on the upkeep of the property in which the "conspiracy of partition" was planned, and must now put it to better use, he said.
Pakistan foreign office spokesman Nafees Zakria said in response that the property belonged to Pakistan's founding father, and that "ownership rights" must be respected.
Jinnah's daughter Dina Wadia, who remained in India, is engaged in a separate legal battle with the Indian government over the property.
The stately building was labelled "evacuee property" in 1949, in accordance with the law that allowed the Indian government to take over properties of those who migrated to Pakistan after partition. The Act has since been repealed.
The Enemy Property Act of 1968, enacted after India and Pakistan fought their second war over Kashmir in 1965, gave the Indian government the right to seize assets of Indian nationals who had moved to Pakistan or China following conflicts with the two countries.
Pakistan enacted a similar law at the time.
But controversial amendments last month to the Enemy Property Act denies Indian families of those who moved to China and Pakistan the right to reclaim their properties.
The value of such properties is estimated at about 1 trillion rupees ($15 billion). The law unfairly targets Muslims, analysts say.
"The government may well apply the Enemy Property Act to the Jinnah House, as it can be applied retroactively," said Anand Grover, a lawyer who has argued the enemy property law before the Supreme Court.
"It would be one way for the government to settle the numerous disputes over the property."
($1 = 65.1695 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)