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No early resolution in sight to Bhopal 'Royal' imbroglio

This is a dispute that has raged for close to seven decades without an end in sight

Tuesday April 23, 2019 8:31 PM, Chandrakant Naidu, IANS

Bhopal Land Dispute

Bhopal: The vesting order of the Custodian of Enemy Property for Indian (CEPI) conferring the Bhopal property on Tiger Pataudi's daughter Saba Ali Khan rests on the argument that Abida Sutlan was heiress to the Bhopal throne, which she would have inherited on the death of her father, Hamidullah Khan, the last Nawab of Bhopal.

Noor-Us-Sabah palace was constructed for Abida Sultan, but she migrated to Pakistan after a spat with her father, thus changing the course of history.

The CEPI case also finds support within a family despite. The most famous is the 1972 court case against filed by Rabia Sultan and Shahbano Maimoona Sultan (and nine others including Abida) versus Sajida Sultan. This challenged the successorship of Sajida Sultan on the death of her husband, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, Tiger's father. In 1972, it was the fourth largest property dispute in India.

According to Jamal Ayub, who has studied the royal property dispute in detail, estate worth crores of rupees in Bhopal and adjoining districts of Sehore and Raisen (earlier part of Bhopal State) are under the scanner. In Bhopal there is an estimated 2,600-acre land and properties, while estimated 3,000 acres is considered Nawab's personal property outside Bhopal. It is an ongoing legal process. The size on the limit of land has been set under Madhya Pradesh Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings (Second Amendment) Act, 1972.

The Act says persons holding land above prescribed limit have to submit a return to the competent authority. The land, spread across five villages in Bhopal, is estimated to be around 800 acres. Land in Chiklod and Rizwan Bagh (in Raisen) is an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 acres. The Sehore properties are estimated to be around 2,000 acres.

A 2017 amendment in the in Enemy Property Act of 1968, gives the government vesting powers and transfer of such properties to heirs is not permitted.

After a directive from the CEPI, the district administration surveyed the properties and issued notices to the occupants. "Information sought by the office of custodian of enemy properties has been sent to the union government and state government in the matter," said former Bhopal Collector Nishant Warwade.

The CEPI has given the state government a list of 133 properties spanning 1,600 acres to investigate. It includes palaces, prime real estate and various farms across Bhopal, Sehore and Raisen district. It also includes the transactions of the properties that have taken place over six decades.

Thereafter, state government has initiated the process to bring the lands in question under the Ceiling Act. The collectors of the respective districts have been asked to carry out a survey of the land record as per the year 1971.

About 800 acres of land in Bhopal is currently registered in the name of the Nawab family. Besides, there is 3,000 acre land in Sehore and Raisen, which is expected to be brought under ceiling.

In the first stage of acquisition of the 721 acre land in Raisen, Additional Commissioner Rajesh Jain has issued a notice to Sharmila Tagore, Saif Ali Khan, Saba and Soha Ali Khan.

They have been asked to explain why they did did not give full information regarding the lands when the government had sought information in 1971 under the Ceiling Act.

The government had enacted the Ceiling Act, 1961 to end the zamindari system. Under this, any person who owned more than 54 acres of land was brought under its purview. Under the same Act, all properties of the Nawab have been brought under its purview except 133 private properties.

But, due to the mistake of the officers, some lands of the Nawab were not recorded officially. For this, records are being amended and a re-survey of the lands is being done.

In August 2003 Additional District Judge Jagdish Baheti had suggested a formula along with decree to divide the property among Mansoor Ali Khan who was managing the property as per the 1961 government notification} and his sisters Saleha and Sabiha in the ratio of 50:25:25. There has been no agreement since.

In 2005 Sabiha filed a suit in a district court claiming rights on Flag Staff House at Ahmedabad Palace a sprawling 10 acre property that housed the Nawab's 'ecretariat. The Royalty members have not been able to settle the matter through different appearances. The last one being a year ago.

Meanwhile, the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has been directed to identify and take physical control of the properties left by people who migrated to Pakistan after the partition and wars.

The CRPF Group Centre at Bhopal has requested district administration to provide a list of enemy properties belonging Abida Sultan. A Union Home Ministry order identifies the CRPF as a beneficiary from the takeover of such properties. The district administration has already notified two properties in Old Bhopal for CRPF takeover.

"We are waiting for a comprehensive list of enemy properties from the district administration listed in the name of Abida Sultan," a CRPF offiicer said.

The CEPI identifying the 133 properties in and around Bhopal as "enemy property" has affected not just the royals. Ordinary citizens too are concerned over Centre's vesting order.

Owners and holders of an estimated 10,000 acres of land in and around Bhopal are bracing for the government's' next move. Two months after the CEPI issued its notice, other citizens hit by the government move have formed a Ghar Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (GBSS).

There is also a controversy over the powers of the Auqaf-e-Shahi. According to former members of Waqf Board, the Waqf Act 1995 and its amendments do not apply to Auqaf-e- Shahi. "The merger agreement (signed by Nawab Hamidullah Khan with the Union of India in 1949) gives the Mutawalli special powers," said a former member of the Waqf Board. The Madhya Pradesh Waqf Board "has gone beyond its brief in terming the appointment of the MutaWalli as unconstitutional," he added.

The royal family has demanded compensation in cases like construction of VIP Road and fishing rights in the Upper Lake, among others. Compensation has been awarded but not paid in the last two cases.

Chiklodh Koti, Raisen and Sehore is another legal tangle where ownership claims have led to government takeover of some locations. The changes in the Waqf Board domain and rules governing Auqaf-e-Shahi have followed a pattern that matches the ideological slant in the governance.

There is also a political angle. The BJP government that held power for 15-years was keen to change the landscape to suit its version of history. The BJP wanted the name of the town to be changed to Bhojpal as it believed the town was founded by Raja Bhoj. The other version is that the region was ruled by Kamalapati, a Gond princes after her husband Bhoopal Shah died. When faced with multiple challenges of defending her state, she entered into a treaty with Dost Muhammad, an Afghan mercenary who was in the court of the Mughals. Dost Mohammad founded the new dynasty on gaining the control of the region named as Bhopal after Bhoopal Shah.

This is a dispute that has raged for close to seven decades without an end in sight. At the present pace, it's certainly something that will not end in a hurry.

[This is the second and concluding part of a two part series on the churning in the erstwhile Bhopal royal family over the claimants to thousands of acres of land worth crores of rupees. Part II examines how the dispute has moved forward. Part I, which ran on Monday, examined the genesis of the dispute and the dramatis personae involved.]

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