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Palace intrigue in Jaipur

August 02, 2006 20:28 IST

The battle for control of the erstwhile Royal Palace of Jaipur between Queen Mother Gayatri Devi and her grandchildren continued to be fought before the Company Law Board Wednesday, with the palace chairman Thakur Hari Singh deposing that the claimants were not legal, but merely biological heirs.

"They are only biological heirs of late Maharaja Jagat Singh, son of Queen Mother not legal heirs. So, they are not entitled to claim any share in the palace (since converted into a hospitality company)," argued senior counsel R K Chaudhery, appearing on behalf of Hari Singh.

Moreover, the grandchildren Devraj Singh (25) and Lalitya Kumari (27), born out of Jagat Singh's marriage to a Thai princess, were not Indian citizens and thus are debarred from claiming any property as per the provisions of the Indian Succession Act, Chaudhery argued during the proceedings.

Singh and Kumari hold Thai passports. As per the Reserve Bank of India regulations, no foreign national can claim or inherit shares in any property through succession until its approval.

Hari Singh, a step son of Gayatri Devi, also contended that the applicant (Devraj) does not even possess a share certificate of the property. They also left their father's will transferring shares of the company neglected for more than a decade. However, Dalip Malhotra, appearing on behalf of Devraj Singh, contended that his client is not a foreign national but a Person of Indian Origin so there is no requirement of RBI clearance.

On the issue of leaving claims on the property unattended, Malhotra said that both brother and sister were minors at that time. Chaudhery opposed this argument on the basis that Lalitya Kumari became a major in 1997 and Devraj in 1999. "Why they were not bothered for nine years even after becoming majors? They did not make a single attempt to get shares transferred. Her mother never attended any board meeting, general meeting of the company and never tried to observe its affairs," contended Hari Singh's counsel.

Meanwhile, on an inquiry by CLB chairman N Balasubramanian whether the Jai Mahal Hotels has declared any dividend or not, Hari Singh replied that company had never issued dividends. Singh and Kumari had dragged Gayatri Devi to court seeking management control of the palace, which is now rechristened Hotel Jai Mahal Palace and leased to the Tag Group of Hotels.

The petitioners had accused the company of suppressing facts (Section 397 of the Companies Act) and charged it with mismanagement (Section 398).

Jagat Singh, who died in London in 1997, was the fourth and youngest son of Sawai Man Singh II, the last ruling King of Jaipur, but the only child born to Maharani Gayatri Devi -- the King's third wife.

After finishing his MBA from London, Devraj came back to Jaipur and claimed his property where he found that Thakur Hari Singh, step son of Gayatri Devi, was administering the entire property, with the help of his grand mother. According to Devraj, earlier his father owned 99 per cent shares of the heritage hotel, which was reduced to seven per cent by "fraud".

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