NEW DELHI: Only the legal heirs of Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad can challenge Maharashtra government's suit regarding possession of a prime property near India Gate here, which was allotted to the then princely state of Baroda in 1935, the Delhi High Court has said.
Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad (1908-1968), belonging to the Gaekwad dynasty of Marathas, was the last ruling Maharaja of Baroda, the territory which merged into independent India in 1949.
Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw said this while dismissing a plea by Dr Shekhar Shah, who had sought quashing of a June 23, 2014 show cause notice issued by the government of Maharashtra under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) (PP) Act 1971, about the property within the boundaries of the New Maharashtra Sadan here.
"I have wondered the locus of the petitioner (Shah) to dispute the title of the respondent (state) to the property or to claim the property to be not of state of Maharashtra but of erstwhile ruler of Baroda State. The challenge if any to the title claimed by the respondent to the property has to be by the heirs of Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad and cannot be by the petitioner," the bench said.
The court noted that when Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad or his heirs have no claim to the property, Shah's claim in a portion of the property, that too by an unregistered document, cannot dispute the title of the State of Maharashtra on the ground that this was the personal property of the Maharaja.
It observed that the dispute raised by the man was "a mere sham and a facade to perpetuate his illegal possession of the property." The court dismissed Shah's petition seeking quashing of the show cause notice and clarified that the earlier interim order granting stay on it be vacated.
"The petitioner having enjoyed the interim stay, this court, to balance the equities, now directs the estate officer to complete the proceedings initiated under the PP Act within six months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment," it noted and asked Shah to pay cost of Rs 30,000 to the state government.
Noting that the state government has not contested Shah's petition "diligently" and allowed him to continue in the premises for the last over half a century, it directed that a copy of its judgment be forwarded to its Resident Commissioner here and to the Chief Secretary to take remedial steps. The high court noted that without any registered document, the right "even if any created in favour of the petitioner (Shah) by the erstwhile Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad with respect to immovable property would be as a licensee and not as owner."
According to Shah, the property was owned, occupied and possessed by him claiming that its ownership to his father was recognised by the Maharaja and his successors. He claimed that since the issue regarding the property was pending adjudication in the title suit, the issuance of notice was a gross abuse of provisions of the Act as it was without any jurisdiction.
The Maharashtra government, through its counter affidavit, contended that Shah's petition was not maintainable. The court noted in its judgement that lease of the entire plot was granted by the then Government, first to the Sirmaur Durbar and thereafter to Baroda Durbar. On a major portion of the plot, the New Maharashtra Sadan has been constructed recently.
"It is obvious therefrom that Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad or his heirs have not claimed and/or are not claiming the subject plot of land to be their personal property and have no dispute with the same being the property of the State of Maharashtra," it said.
"Here, it is not found that the petitioner (Shah) without even any semblance of title to the property has been occupying a prime valuable property in the heart of the city at India Gate, obviously to the detriment of the public at large and is using the process of the Court to perpetuate his illegal unauthorised possession," it said.