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HindustanTimes Wed,27 Aug 2014

Decoding the royal dispute

Shailee Dogra  Chandigarh, July 26, 2013
First Published: 22:22 IST(26/7/2013) | Last Updated: 23:50 IST(26/7/2013)

The 21-year-long fight for the royal inheritance of the erstwhile Maharaja of Faridkot, Sir Harinder Singh Brar, could easily be among one of the longest battles in the legal history of this region.

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But the wait was worth it for the Maharaja’s daughter who had challenged the “will” entitling a trust as caretaker of the royal assets including forts, palatial houses, hundreds of acre of prime land, heritage jewelry, vintage cars and a hefty bank balance.

At stake were properties worth a whopping Rs. 20,000 crore which the Maharaja of Faridkot was allowed to keep after independence. The court verdict declaring the will as “forged and fabricated” has brought them a windfall gain. While the will, forged in 1981 when the Maharaja was in depression, had made his servants and lawyers trustees, the court has declared it “illegal”.   

GENESIS OF THE DISPUTE

Sir Harinder Singh Brar, crowned at the age of three in 1918, was the last ruler of the Faridkot estate and was married to Narinder Kaur. The royal couple had three daughters, Amrit Kaur, Deepinder Kaur and Maheepinder Kaur and one son, Tikka Harmohinder Singh. When his son died in a road accident in 1981, the Maharaja went into depression and the will was executed 7-8 months later raising the trust to take care of properties. While the Maharaja’s wife and mother (alive then) were in the dark, Deepinder Kaur and Maheepinder Kaur were appointed trust chairman and vice-chairman, respectively.

Maheepinder, a spinster, died in Shimla in 2001 under mysterious circumstances. The will claimed that as the eldest daughter, Amrit Kaur, had married against his wishes, the Maharaja had disinherited her. Curiously, the will came to light after the Maharaja’s death in 1989.
 
WHO FILED THE CASE?

Amrit Kaur, settled in Chandigarh, filed a civil suit in the local district court, challenging the will. Her contention was that her father could not have legally bequeathed his entire estate to the trust because it was ancestral property governed by the law applying to the Hindu joint family. She also questioned the authenticity of the will with the following arguments:

·       Maharaja was not in a fit state of mind and the alleged will was created under influence and pressure
·       Exclusion of his wife, Narinder Kaur and mother, Mohinder Kaur
·       Appointment of all the employees, irrespective of their class and designation, as trustees
·       Will is invalid, as one of the attesting witness, namely, Brijinder Singh Brar, is a beneficiary himself
 

WHAT WAS AT STAKE?

The royal riches, which can make you green with envy, include heritage properties and prime land in four states (Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana) and the union territory of Chandigarh. Here is a list of movable and immovable properties which the daughters have won back:
 
Rajmahal, Faridkot: Spread over 14 acres, it was constructed in 1885 as the royal residence. Now, a 150-bed charitable hospital stands on a portion of palace grounds.
 
Qila Mubarak, Faridkot: Built by Raja Mokulsi and reconstructed by Raja Hamir Singh around 1775, it is spread over 10 acres. The present main building was built around 1890.
 
Faridkot House, New Delhi: Located on a huge piece of prime land on Copernicus Marg, it is currently leased to Central government at a monthly rent of Rs. 17.50 lakh. Valued at Rs. 1200 crore nine years ago. Also, there is one more property in posh Diplomatic Enclave
 
Manimajra Fort, Chandigarh: Spread over spread four acres, it is at least 350-years-old. The city administration had planned to develop the fort as tourist destination. Decision deferred due to the legal battle.
 
Faridkot House, Mashobra (Shimla): a 260 bigha estate, it had five residences, three of which, including the Sherwood House, were destroyed in a fire.
 
18 vintage cars: A 1929 model Royal Royce, 1929 model Graham, 1940 model Bentley, Jaguar, Damler, Packard among others and all of them in working condition.
 
Aerodrome, Faridkot: Used by the civil administration and army, it is spread over 200 acres.
 
Gold and jewels: Valued at Rs. 1000 crore, these are in Standard Chartered Bank custody in Mumbai.
 
THE JUDGEMENT

Chief judicial magistrate, Rajnish Kumar Sharma, ruled that the will making the trust owner of the property was forged. It has been declared “illegal and void”.
 
WHAT NEXT

The Chandigarh court judgment may be challenged in the higher court by the Meharwal Khewaji Trust, which was the custodian of the Maharaja's properties/assets so far.

However, Lalit Mohan Gupta, chief executive officer of the trust, declined to comment on the future course of action, saying he was yet to receive copy of the court order.

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