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A bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, while dealing with the question whether succession to the properties declared by an erstwhile ruler to be his private properties in the agreement of accession with the Dominion of India will be governed by the rule of succession applicable to the “Gaddi’ or by the personal law applicable to the ruler held that the personal law of the ruler will be applicable in such cases.

Nawab Raza Ali Khan was the ruler of Rampur who signed a merger Agreement with the Union of India in 1949. As per the agreement he was entitled to the full ownership, use and enjoyment of all the private properties owned by him and was to submit an inventory of all the immovable properties to the Dominion. He was declared to be a ruler under Article 366(22) of the Indian Constitution. He died in 1966 intestate.

After the death of the Nawab, the President of India recognized his eldest son Nawab Syed Murtaza Ali Khan as the ruler. By a certificate the new ruler was recognized as the sole successor of all the private properties of the Late Nawab which was challenged by other successors.

The plaintiffs in this case – Talat Fatima Hasan v Nawab Syed Murtuza Ali Khan – argued that the properties declared by the Nawab to be his private properties in terms of the merger agreement were his private properties and all legal heirs were entitled to a share in the property as per the personal law. Whereas the defendants contended that the property was not the private property of the Nawab but was attached to the “Gaddi” of the state of Rampur and therefore it was governed by the law of succession which was admittedly applicable to the rulership of Rampur which was the rule of male lineal primogeniture which meant that the senior-most male heir takes everything to the exclusion of all others.

The Court observed “the definition of ruler in clause (22) of Article 366 of the Constitution itself shows that the person who is defined as ruler is a former prince, chief or other person, who was, on or after 26.01.1950 recognised as a ruler having signed the covenant of accession. Necessarily, the ruler was a person who was recognized before independence by the British crown and was the sovereign of his state. Such person, though defined as a “Ruler” has no territory and exercises no sovereignty over any subjects. He has no attributes of a potentate nor does he enjoy all the powers and privileges which are normally exercised by a potentate.”

The Court has directed the trial court to appoint a Commissioner to divide the property as per the Shariat Application Act, 1937.

–India Legal Bureau

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