Tuesday, August 24, 2010

HC admits daughter’s claim to Jinnah House

Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Monday finally admitted a petition filed by Dina Wadia, daughter of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to stake her claim as the “only daughter and sole heir’’ to her father’s palatial Malabar Hill in the city.

Dina is almost 91 and resides in the US. She moved the high court exactly three years ago, challenging a 60-year-old Indian government notification that defined Jinnah House, spread over a 2.5-acre plot, as “evacuee property’’ and took its possession.
While the government says Jinnah willed his house to his sister Fatima on May 30, 1939, Dina and her lawyers have denied the existence of any such valid will.
In a three-way fight, the HC also admitted a petition filed by Jinnah’s grandnephew Mohammed Ebrahim and his son, staking an independent claim to the house that Jinnah rebuilt. Their counsel Yusuf Muchala said that under Muslim Law they were Fatima Jinnah’s legal heirs and hence entitled to the property.
A bench of Justices D K Deshmukh and N D Deshpande, after admitting the petitions, posted the matter for final hearing on September 23. The judges allowed the central government to carry out restoration work on the mansion but “without making structural changes’’.
A Bombay high court bench has allowed the Centre to restore Jinnah House, the erstwhile property of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. But the government will have to give four weeks’ advance notice to his daughter Dina Wadia—who has staked her claim to the Malabar Hill property on the contention that she is Jinnah’s “only daughter”—if it wishes to use and occupy the property so that she can challenge it. The court said, “The final use of the bungalow would be subject to the outcome of the petition.’’
Solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam, representing the Centre, said the government wanted to use Jinnah House. He said much work needed to be done on it first. The government in recent years decided to use the heritage property as a South Asia Centre for Art and Culture.
Before hearing Dina’s lawyers for 90 minutes on Monday, the judges asked, “Why the delay?’’ Senior counsel Navroz Seervai and solicitor Srikant Doijode, representing Jinnah’s daughter, took the court through the events that led to the present court battle. “The challenge is to a notification issued in 1949 by a custodian stating that the property was vested in him under the Evacuee Properties Act of 1949. The notice was on the ground that the property belonged to Jinnah’s sister Fatima, an evacuee,’’ said Seervai adding that she, however, learnt of the notification only in 1994, when the government filed a reply to her earlier petition. “The notification is not found in the official gazette. That petition was however withdrawn since the government had not accepted that Dina Wadia was Jinnah’s sole heir and she was told to file a suit.’’
Dina then began a long chain of representations to the Indian government. She said that in 2002, on her representation to the Prime Minister, the government accepted that she was the “only daughter of Jinnah’’.

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