Kutch ruler’s son cannot claim father’s riches: Court

By R.K. Misra, IANS,

Gandhinagar : The Rs.1,000-crore (Rs. 10 billion) riches of erstwhile Kutch ruler, the late Maharao Madansinhji, are different from those now belonging to the government and nobody, including his son, can question the division of property as per his will, the Gujarat High Court has ruled.

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The court said this while rejecting the plea of Prithvirajsinhji, a son of Madansinhji who died in 1991, to declare his father’s property – valued at about Rs.1,000 crore – as those of a Hindu undivided family (HUF), which would give him the right to lay claim to one-third of it.

Prithvirajsinhji had sought judicial intervention for an affirmation that his father’s property was the property of their joint family and that he was entitled to a one-third share in it.

The erstwhile ruler said in his will that Prithvirajsinhji would not get anything from his riches if he did not withdraw a court case filed by him in 1980 over the division of property.

While the documents in the case did not reveal the contents of the will, the petition referred to more than 40 prime properties, including two buildings in Mumbai valued at over Rs.50 crore.

The other property belonging to the petitioner’s father included Darbargadh Palace (Rs.50 crore), Prag Mahal Palace (Rs.50 crore), Ranjit Vilas Palace, (Rs.80 crore), Chavda Rakhal (Rs.50 crore), Vijay Vilas Palace (Rs.500 crore), the entire land of Sharad Baug Palace (Rs.50 crore), and Aina Mahal(Rs.50 crore).

A division bench comprising Justice Bhagwati Prasad and Justice J.C. Upadhayaya, in a judgement last week, rejected the appeal and held that the properties in question were the sovereign ruler Maharao Madansinhji’s private properties in which the petitioner cannot claim a share.

The court ruled that Prithvirajsinhji had no right to seek a share in the palaces and the right of the erstwhile ruler to dispose of the properties by will cannot be questioned.

Prithvirajsinhji had moved the high court in 1999 challenging a lower court’s ruling against him.

Prior to February 1948, the former state of Kutch was ruled by Maharao Vijayrajji, who was the joint Hindu family’s ‘karta’ — seniormost member entitled to manage the family affairs and joint family properties.

His family included wife Maharani Padmakunvarba, his eldest son Madansinhji who was made a defendant in the suit, Rajendrakumariba, the wife of Madansinhji, and other members of the family.

After the death of Maharao Vijayrajji, his eldest son, Madansinhji, became karta of the joint family and also became the ruler and Maharao of Kutch. In that capacity, he ceded to the dominion government full and exclusive jurisdiction and powers in relation to the governance of the state of Kutch on May 4, 1948.

The government decided to give Rs.8 lakh as privy purse to cover the expenses of the family.

An instrument of ceding was made between the governor general of India and the Maharao on the same date. Later the privy purses of erstwhile rulers were abolished by the central government.

The instrument clearly distinguished between properties belonging to the state of Kutch and those of its ruler. A clause of the instrument said the ruler was entitled to full ownership, use and enjoyment of all private properties as distinct from the state properties.

The petitioner contended that his father also purchased properties between 1948 and 1980 out of family funds from the Sindhu Resettlement Corporation.

It was argued that the late ruler did not have any independent source of income other than the family funds; hence as a member of the joint family the petitioner should get one-third share in his property.

However, counsel for late Madansinhji submitted that the family custom of inheritance of the state’s rule and all the properties and assets exclusively and absolutely by the eldest son was never challenged.

Hence, Madansinhji inherited the raj and all the properties and assets absolutely, excluding all other members of the royal family. The family members have never had a right to challenge the said absolute power and right of the Maharao occupying the ruler’s seat.

The maintenance provided by the ruler to members of the family was out of grace and not as a legal duty. No family member was ever entitled to any right to claim maintenance from family properties, counsel argued.

The high court held that a clear distinction was made in the instrument signed by the parties in 1948 which distinguished the properties of the state and the properties of the ruler.

The court also noted that the privy purse of Rs.8 lakh was allowed to Madansinhji and not to the royal family.

The division bench confirmed the findings of the trial court that the ruler’s will was executed in a lawful manner and Madansinhji had the right to execute it.

(R.K. Misra can be contacted at [email protected])