A move by the Custodian of Enemy Property for India (CEP) to assume control of all properties of the last Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan, may not stand legal scrutiny because of an erroneous interpretation of events.
The CEP’s action is based on the view that Abida Sultan, the nawab’s eldest daughter, was his successor and her father’s estate became “enemy property” because she migrated to Pakistan.
The CEP is empowered by the Enemy Property Act of 1968 to appropriate property in India owned by Pakistani nationals.
However, legal experts pointed out that the CEP’s move is on a weak wicket as it overlooked a basic fact — the Union home ministry and the Bhopal district court, through a ruling in 2000, recognized Begum Sajida Sultan, the nawab’s second daughter, and not Abida Sultan as the successor to her father.
This recognition was effective from February 4, 1960 after the nawab’s death.
The CEP, by describing Abida Sultan as the successor to the nawab, has also overlooked an order of the Union home ministry, the ministry under which the CEP functions.
"The CEP has assumed that Abida Sultan, being the eldest, would be the successor to the nawab. However, she migrated to Pakistan while the nawab was alive. The second daughter, Sajida Sultan, was recognized as successor by the union government under Article 366(22) of the Constitution," said NC Das, counsel for the successors of the nawab’s third daughter, Rabia Sultan.
"She (Sajida Sultan) continued to enjoy the prerogatives extended to rulers by the union government," he said.
These facts will be brought before the state government when it is required, Das said.
The CEP informed Madhya Pradesh’s principal secretary (revenue) through a letter on February 25 that it was vesting Hamidullah Khan’s estate with its office.
The letter asked collectors to prepare a list of properties across the state that would qualify as enemy property. It also asked collectors to take over the control and management of such properties.
The CEP also sent a notice to actor Saif Ali Khan on December 19, 2014, identifying him as the successor to the estate of the nawab of Bhopal since 2011.
After his father Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s death, Saif was part of a coronation ceremony at Pataudi, where he was declared nawab, but studiously avoided any such ceremony in Bhopal.
In another notice sent on February 16, the CEP asked the actor to furnish copies of the merger agreement between the erstwhile Bhopal state and the union of India, the order recognizing Saif Ali Khan’s grandmother Sajida Sultan as successor to the nawab, and the district court order that recognized Sajida Sultan as the successor.
"We have asked the state government to identify the properties of the nawab and inform us," said an official of the CEP.
Over the years
The properties in question include 15 residential properties and 23 cottages listed in the merger agreement as "private properties" of the nawab and estimated to be worth several crores of rupees.
Under the Enemy Property Act of 1968, properties belonging to people who migrated to Pakistan during the two wars of 1965 and 1971 are to be vested with the office of the Custodian of Enemy Property
The last nawab, Hamidullah Khan, had three daughters, Abida, Sajida and Rabia. The eldest, Abida, migrated to Pakistan and her son Shahryar Khan later became Pakistan’s foreign secretary and chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board
After moving to Pakistan, neither Abida nor her son Shahryar staked claim over the property
Abida migrated to Pakistan in 1948. Hamidullah Khan died on February 4, 1960 and the government of India recognised his second daughter, Sajida, as his successor. She received all prerogatives extended to rulers by the government
Second daughter Sajida was married to Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi. Their son Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi captained the Indian cricket team
Third daughter Rabia stayed in Bhopal till her death.