20,000-cr Faridkot royal property dispute: Apex court upholds HC order

Updated on Sep 07, 2022 05:34 PM IST

With the maharaja’s will being declared ‘null and void’, the Maharawal Khewaji Trust, which had been looking after the royal properties, will be dissolved 33 years after it came into existence; maharaja’s daughters to get lion’s share

The battle between Maharawal Khewaji Trust, which had been looking after the properties for 33 years, and the maharaja’s daughter Amrit Kaur is considered to be one of the longest battles in the legal history of this region (HT PHOTO )
The battle between Maharawal Khewaji Trust, which had been looking after the properties for 33 years, and the maharaja’s daughter Amrit Kaur is considered to be one of the longest battles in the legal history of this region (HT PHOTO )
By, Faridkot

Putting an end to the 30-year-long fight for inheriting the royal riches of the erstwhile maharaja of Faridkot, Sir Harinder Singh Brar, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the Punjab and Haryana high court’s order awarding the majority share in the 20,000-crore property to his daughters –Amrit Kaur and Deepinder Kaur – and dissolved the Maharawal Khewaji Trust, which had been looking after the properties.

A three-judge bench, comprising chief justice of India (CJI) Uday Umesh Lalit, justice S Ravindra Bhat and justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, ordered some modifications to the HC order pertaining to the property share.

After hearing arguments pertaining to testamentary succession of the royal inheritance for two consecutive days in the last week of July, the bench had reserved its orders on July 28.

The battle between Maharawal Khewaji Trust and the maharaja’s daughter Amrit Kaur is considered to be one of the longest battles in the legal history of this region. With the maharaja’s will being declared ‘null and void’, the Maharawal Khewaji Trust will be dissolved 33 years after it came into existence.

The trust’s chief executive officer Jagir Singh Sran said, “We have received oral orders and are awaiting the SC’s complete written order. There are some modifications regarding the distribution of share in the property.”

In July 2020, the Maharawal Khewaji Trust had moved the SC against the Punjab and Haryana high court order declaring Brar’s will dated June 1, 1982, as ‘forged’ in its favour. In August 2020, the Apex Court had ordered status quo till the judgment, allowing the trust to continue as caretaker.

In June 2020, the high court had upheld a Chandigarh court’s order on June 1, awarding majority share in the 20,000-crore property of Brar to his two daughters — Amrit Kaur, who challenged the will in 1992, and Deepinder Kaur. The court held that descendants of Manjit Inder Singh, the last ruler’s brother, would get their mother Mohinder Kaur’s share.

As of the will in dispute, the court observed, the trustees conspired to create the will to take over the property. “The will is proved to be forged, fictitious, fabricated and shrouded with suspicious circumstances,” the court order said.

In 2013, the Chandigarh district court had declared the will, which had entitled Maharawal Khewaji Trust as the caretaker of the properties, as illegal and void, and had granted inheritance to Brar’s two daughters— Amrit and Deepinder.

Genesis of the dispute

Crowned maharaja at the age of three in 1918, Harinder Singh Brar was the last ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Faridkot. Brar and his wife Narinder Kaur had three daughters – Amrit Kaur, Deepinder Kaur and Maheepinder Kaur –and a son, Tikka Harmohinder Singh.

After his son’s death in a road accident in 1981, the maharaja slipped into a depression and his will was executed around seven to eight months later, and the trust was formed to look after the royal properties after him. While the Maharaja’s wife and mother were in the dark, Deepinder Kaur and Maheepinder Kaur were appointed the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the trust, respectively.

The will claimed that as his eldest daughter, Amrit Kaur, had married against his wishes, the maharaja had disinherited her. Curiously, the will only came to light after the maharaja’s death in 1989.

Maheepinder, a spinster, died in Shimla in 2001 in mysterious circumstances. Amrit Kaur, who is based in Chandigarh, filed a civil suit in the local district court, challenging the will in 1992. 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.

The royal riches

At stake were properties worth a whopping 20,000 crore, which the maharaja was allowed to keep after independence. The royal riches include movable and immovable assets in four states (Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana) and Chandigarh. They also include:

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 the palace ground.

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 out to Central government at a monthly rent of 17.50 lakh. It was valued at 1,200 crore nine years ago.

Manimajra Fort, Chandigarh: The three-century old fort is spread over four acres.

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 Rolls 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 1,000 crore, they are in Standard Chartered Bank’s custody in Mumbai.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Parteek Singh Mahal is a multimedia correspondent based at Faridkot in Punjab. He covers medical education, politics and Punjab police.

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