New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed a woman’s petition seeking the ownership of the historical Red Fort on the ground that she is the legal heir of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. In her alternative plea, 68-year-old Sultana Begum sought compensation from the government for the alleged illegal possession saying that the Red Fort was “illegally taken over by British East India Company”.
Dismissing the plea, Justice Rekha Palli said there was no justification for the inordinate delay in approaching the court after over 150 years.
“My history is weak but you claim injustice was done to you by the British East India Company in 1857. Why is there a delay of over 150 years? What were you doing all these years?” the judge remarked.
The court said, “Everybody knew about it. Everyone in the court must have read history that he was exiled. It was known to the world. Why was nothing filed in time? If her ancestors did not do it, can she do it now?”
Meanwhile, Petitioner Sultana Begum said she was the widow of late Mirza Mohammed Bedar Bakht who had “successfully escaped from Rangoon”. The petition stated that Bakht was recognised as the inheritor of Bahadur Shah II in 1960 by the Government of India and after the former’s death died on May 22, 1980 and, she started receiving pension.
“According to you, the injustice was done in 1857. After 170 years you have approached the court, please explain how you can do that. We will then come to merits, how you own the Red Fort, we will see. We need to inform all other people they should not be using it without permission, that is what you want to say,” said the court.
Calling the Government of India an illegal occupant of the Red Fort, the petition claimed that the woman has been deprived of her ancestral property without any compensation whatsoever. The plea also said that when Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled by the East India Company, they took over his property “without taking consideration of the law and the principle of natural justice”.
“First explain the delay and latches in approaching the court. Forget about whether you can be owner or not because the first line of your petition (is) that there was injustice caused to you by the British East India Company,” Justice Rekha Palli told the counsel representing the petitioner at the outset of the hearing.
The court also rejected the submission made by the petitioner’s counsel that she was an illiterate woman due to which she could not approach earlier.