| Chandigarh |
Published: June 1, 2020 11:26:45 pm
In an end to yet another round of litigation regarding ownership of the properties of Maharaja Colonel Sir Harinder Singh Brar, the ruler of Faridkot, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Monday upheld the rights of his two daughters over his estate and asserted that the June 1982 will favouring the Maharawal Khewaji Trust is forged and fabricated.
The properties were under control of the Trust till date. In a fresh development, the HC also ruled that Brar’s mother, Maharani Mohinder Kaur, would have a share in his property and validated her 1990 will bequeathing her share in favour of her other son, Kanwar Manjit Inder Singh, and his son and daughter.
The Trust, which had been managing Brar’s properties worth at least Rs. 25,000 crore since 1989 – the year the earstwhile royal died – on the basis of the 1982 will, had lost the 1991 property dispute case to the late ruler’s daughters Amrit Kaur and Deepinder Kaur in 2013. The purported will, favouring the Trust, had divested the daughters of a majority share of their father’s inheritance but the lower court restored equally it to them in 2013. It was later challenged before the lower appellate court, which also upheld their rights. The judgements remained under stay during the pendency of the matter before HC where it reached in 2018.
Justice Raj Mohan Singh passed a 547-page verdict in the case Monday.
The main legal issues in the case included applicability of The Raja of Faridkot’s Estate Act 1948, the Rule of Primogeniture (by which eldest son inherits the property) or whether Hindu Succession Act would be applicable in the case. The main controversy in the case revolved around the 1982 will, according to which all the Brar’s estate was taken over by the Trust, and the claims of the kin of Kanwar Manjit Inder Singh, who argued that in absence of Brar’s living male child, the property would go to them.
Maharaja of Faridkot and other such rulers of sovereign regions in August 1948 signed an agreement with the Government of India, following which Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU) came into being. The rulers were to submit a list of their personal properties at that time to an administrator or Rajpramukh. The laws of Patiala remained applicable to PEPSU for the time being. Maharaja Brar had three daughters and one son. His son Harmohinder Singh died in 1981, other daughter Mahipinder died in 2001 and one of the appellants in the matter, Deepinder Kaur, died in 2018.
The HC in the ruling has held that the 1948 Act was not an existing enactment at the time of coming into force of Constitution of India in 1950 and thus the matter would not be covered under Section 5 (ii) of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, which says the law will not be applicable to any estate which descends to a single heir by the terms of any agreement entered into by the Ruler of any Indian State with the Government of India or by terms of any law passed before commencement of the 1956 law.
“Once The Raja of Faridkot’s Estate Act, 1948 itself was not approved by PEPSU, the properties as per list of properties in the hands of late Raja Harinder Singh Brar will not be governed by the said Act,” the judgement reads, adding, the right to the Brar’s properties depend upon the personal laws of succession. The 1948 Act would have meant the whole property would have gone to the eldest daughter, Amrit Kaur.
The Other Contestant
Legal representative of Bharat Inder Singh, son of Kanwar Manjit Inder Singh, the brother of the Maharaja Brar, had argued for applicability of the Rule of Primogeniture and argued that in absence of any living son of Maharaja, the property would go to them. The HC rejected the argument and said the custom ceased to exist on merger of Faridkot state with dominion of India, adding that even the rights and privileges conferred upon the ruler under any Covenant or agreement came to an end with his death and that they are not inheritable and do not devolve as of right on the next heir.
“Section 4 of the Hindu Succession Act abrogated all laws of succession and custom etc applicable to Hindus, whether by virtue of any text or rule of Hindu Law or any custom or usage having the force of law. Any custom or usage like primogeniture in force shall cease to have effect after enforcement of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956. This Act also supersedes any other law contained in any central or State legislation in force immediately before this Act came in to force insofar as such legislation is inconsistent with the provisions contained in the Act,” the judgement reads.
The ‘Forged’ Will
In October 1989, following the death of Maharaja Brar, the Board of Trustees, on the basis of the alleged will, dated June 1, 1982, had taken possession of the properties. The court after analysing the evidence pertaining to the will upheld the trial court decision, which had held it to be an invalid document.
Observing that the 1982 will was produced only 20 years after filing of the suit, the HC in the verdict said, “The alleged will executed by Raja Harinder Singh is found to be forged, fabricated and shrouded with suspicious circumstances and Maharwal Khewaji Trust constituted thereunder is not a legally constituted Trust”.
The court in the same verdict also delved into the March 1990 will of Maharani Mohinder Kaur, she was alive when Maharaja Brar died, and ruled that she was his class-I heir and would have succeeded a share in the estate of her late son.
“The lawful share had come to the fold of late Maharani Mohinder Kaur on the basis of succession under Hindu Succession Act. Such qualified share is the subject matter of registered Will dated March 29, 1990, which cannot remain in abeyance after the death of Maharani Mohinder Kaur on March 5, 1991. In this way, the beneficiaries of the will would also be entitled to some share in the estate of Raja Harinder Singh on the basis of inheritance by late Maharani Mohinder Kaur and further inheritance by Kanwar Manjit Inder Singh, Rajkumari Devinder Kaur and Kanwar Bharat Inder Singh on the strength of registered Will dated Mar ch 29, 1990,” the verdict reads.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Senior Advocate Manjit Singh Khaira, who represented Amrit Kaur in the case, said the will pertaining to the Trust has been declared as forged by all the three courts and the property will go to natural heirs as per the Hindu Succession Act. “His mother was alive when he died, so one-fourth share goes to her,” Khaira said, adding, however, her will has not been proven in accordance with the law. Khaira added that the question regarding Maharani’s 1990 will remains open. “They will draw a decree. The judgement is not executable. It is the decree sheet that is executed,” he said, while referring to implementation part of the judgement.
Rajmahal Faridkot, Qila Mubarak Faridkot, Faridkot House in Delhi, Mashobra House in Shimla. Surjajgarh Fort in Manimajra are some of the properties which were owned by the late Maharaja.
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