Supreme Court: The full bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Abhay S. Oka, and J.B. Pardiwala J.J., asked Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage and Archaeological Survey of India to nominate two heritage architects each. The committee of five is to be chaired by retired Chief Justice of Bombay and Rajasthan High Court, Pradeep Nandrajog to supervise and execute the restoration work of the Estate of erstwhile Maharaja of Khetri.

The bench heard the civil appeal matter filed by the State, the subject matter of which was the Estate of erstwhile Maharaja of Khetri, in respect of which the State of Rajasthan exercised its rights under the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956, as there were no legal representatives to inherit the estate. The Court was primarily concerned with procedure of saving and restoration of the heritage property since the rights over the Estate of the Maharaja is the subject matter of a different civil suit which is currently pending adjudication before the High Court.

Allegedly there existed a Will of late Raja dated 13-10-1985, which read with codicil dated 07-11-1985 stated that he created a public charitable trust with eminent persons as trustees. The point for consideration was to establish the legality of the execution of the Will in order to define the Rights that the Trust may have in the property as well as making the State accountable for the valuable movables which were a part of the heritage.

In respect of the said Will, probate proceedings were filed before the Delhi High Court, but the claim of the Trust was rejected in 2012 after quarter of a Century. The Second appeal has already seen a decade of pendency which has created problems, as the management of the estate is in question. If the cognates/agnates are able to establish their rights or if the probate of Will is granted, the escheat proceedings would be declared void ab initio. Persons claiming to be cognates and agnates are essentially not interested in claiming any rights in the property as long as the Trust managed the property and not go in escheat proceedings.

The present proceedings arose due to the challenge to the escheat proceedings by the Trust which was passed in favour of the Trust itself on the basis that there were defects in exercise of the rights by the State under the Escheat proceedings and thus the property should be handed over to the Trust subject to the final view on the probate proceedings. The Trust placed a booklet showing the six immovable properties forming part of the properties of Raja Sardar Singh and the manner in which they have been permitted to seed by the State.

In the order dated 22-09-2022, the State volunteered to carry out renovation under the guidance of the Archaeological Survey of India where only experts would be permitted to device methods for renovation and conservation. The Court however, clarified that the State spending its own funds for the restoration would not create any special equities in favour of the State. The Trust or cognates or Agnates, upon succeeding would then be liable to compensate the State, subject to accountability of the movable assets.

The Trust apprised the Court of the encroachment on the property, to which the Supreme Court asked the State to remove the encroachers with immediate effect with the directions that no proceedings shall be entertained in respect of such encroachment by any Courts. In order to ensure that there are no further encroachments, the Court directed the Collector to deploy security for all the properties to ensure that there is no such further encroachment as they have a greater responsibility to protect the heritage since it has exercised the right to escheat.

“We are shocked and amazed at the manner in which the State of Rajasthan has permitted its heritage to be destroyed and continues to permit it to be destroyed while claiming its rights under the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956!” exclaimed the Supreme Court.

The Court, subsequently, issued a contempt notice to the Collector, Jaipur for wilfully disobeying the orders of the Court since no plan of maintenance and restoration of the heritage property was placed before the Court.

In addition, the Trust had placed an updated booklet titled ‘Lost Treasures' which reflected a horrifying picture of the deteriorating state of the heritage property. The Court vociferated that the issue of restoration of heritage could not be left to the State Government who had shown no consideration for the same.

The State, however, placed a comprehensive Assessment Report in January 2023 drafted by GRUPISM LLP Architects before the Court, perusal of which inclined the Court to entrust the restoration work to a group of architects who had prepared the report.

The Supreme Court noted that the State had sanctioned a budget of five crore for carrying out the renovation work which would be made available as and when it would be cleared by the five members of the supervising Committee. The Court directed the State to make more funds available for renovation if necessary, having been party to watching heritage deteriorate. The State was further directed to reimburse the appointed committee as well. The Court requested the five-member committee to begin work forthwith.

The Court clarified that neither of the parties had an assigned a role and the heritage property would be under the supervision of the Committee. However, permitted the Trust to assist the Committee in identifying various aspects of the renovation work.

The matter to be heard next on 21-03-2023.

[State of Rajasthan v. Lord Nothbook, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 83, order dated 18-01-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For the appellant- Senior Advocate Manish Singhvi, Advocate Arpit Parkash, Advocate. Vikalp Sharma, Advocate on Record Milind Kumar and Advocate on Record Sandeep Kumar Jha

For the respondent- Senior Advocate C.A. Sundaram, Advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar, Advocate Mahesh Agarwal, Advocate Rishi Agrawala, Advocate Anshuman Srivastava Advocate Rishabh Parikh, Advocate S. Lakshmi Iyer, Advocate on Record E. C. Agrawala, Advocate on Record Kumar Mihir, Advocate Devendra Raghava, Advocate Rajeshwari Hariharan, Advocate on Record Nishit Agrawal and Advocate Kanishka Mittal

*Simran Singh, Editorial Assistant has put together this brief.

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