HT Explainer: Battle Royale for the riches
The Punjab and Haryana high court on Monday upheld a Chandigarh court’s order awarding majority share in ₹20,000-crore property of Maharaja Faridkot Harinder Singh Brar to his two daughters —Amrit Kaur and Deepinder Kaur.Updated: Jun 02, 2020 10:58 IST
The high court on Monday ruled in favour of two daughters in the three-decade-long legal battle for the assets between members of Faridkot royal family. It also gave share to descendents of Maharaja’s brother. Surender Sharma dissects the issue to know what is at stake, the claimants and the road ahead
Faridkot’s last Maharaja Harinder Singh had three daughters — Amrit Kaur, Deepinder Kaur and Mahip Inder Kaur and one son, Harmohinder Singh. His son died in a road accident in 1981. Maharaja died in 1989 and soon after, a will purportedly signed by him surfaced in 1982, entrusting properties to a trust. His wife Narinder Kaur, mother Mohinder Kaur and Amrit Kaur feigned ignorance about the will. It had Deepinder Kaur and Mahip Inder Kaur as trust chairperson and vice-chairperson. Mahip Inder, a spinster, died in Shimla in 2001. Amrit Kaur had reportedly married against the wishes of Maharaja to a police officer, a reason cited for her exclusion.
She filed a civil suit in 1992, challenging the will of her father. Her contention was that her father could not have legally bequeathed his entire estate to the trust because it was ancestral property governed by Hindu joint family law. Manjit Inder Singh, Harinder Singh’s brother, argued that as Maharaja’s son had died, the property should have been granted to the eldest living male blood relative.
What is at stake
As per lawyers, the properties are valued at more than ₹20,000 crore. It include Rajmahal in Faridkot, which is spread over 14 acres; Qila Mubarak built by Raja Mokulsi and reconstructed by Raja Hamir Singh around 1775; and Faridkot House on Copernicus Marg in New Delhi. Other properties include Manimajra Fort, Chandigarh, spread over four acres, Faridkot House in Mashobra (Shimla, a 260-bigha estate); 18 vintage cars; aerodrome in Faridkot, which is spread over 200 acres, and gold and jewels valued at ₹1,000 crore in Standard Chartered Bank’s custody in Mumbai.
The will and the verdict
The will which entrusted properties of Maharaja was purportedly signed in 1982 but surfaced in 1989 after his death. It had Deepinder and Mahip Inder Kaur at the helm, and a large number of employees as custodians. The court observed that the locker from where the will was recovered was operated by the Raja personally then how an employee of Raja opened the same without informing others. Also it was natural for him to inform his near and dear ones about such an important document, but none knew about it. Also, why the executors did not make any inventory of movable and immovable properties of Raja, nor they performed any obligation mandatorily required under Indian Succession Act. Another aspect noted by court is that why Raja would disinherit his unmarried daughter, his wife and mother in the will.
As per lawyers, 37.5% of share goes to both the daughters and 25% to Bharat Inder Singh. The appeal against the dispute, which started in 1992, lies in Supreme Court now.