Indian Judiciary Sets a record (of sorts)

What Speed

new-picture-74 The wheels of Indian justice grind slowly, but there are times when they don’t move at all—as has happened with the record breaking case of an erstwhile Bengal royal family’s property.

The matter, which is now in the Calcutta high court, has been pending for 175 years, making it perhaps the country’s longest-running case.

The property belonged to Raja Rajkrishna Deb, an 18th century landlord of Bengal’s Shovabazar royal family. Now, the Raja’s descendants—some 200 of them—are demanding it.

The stakes are high—some seven mansions in north Kolkata, nearly 100,000 acres of land in what is now Bangladesh, large tracts of land in at least three districts of West Bengal, and half of erstwhile Sutanati, one of the three villages that make up modern Kolkata.

“We are kings in name only. There is no money even to take care of the temples and do puja,’’ a descendant of the raja told TOI. Incidentally, the Shovabazar Durga Puja is an institution in Kolkata.
The problems began when Raja Rajkrishna Deb died in 1823, bequeathing his estate to his seven surviving sons. But the sons started selling off the property to fund their luxurious lifestyles.

The matter first came to court in 1833, when an executor of Rajkrishna Deb’s will lodged a case to try to stop the sale. After pondering over the case for 22 years, the judges appointed a British lawyer to oversee the property and the case dragged on.

Now the heirs want it back but legal experts say it won’t be easy for the high court to take a decision on a case file that has been gathering dust for nearly two centuries. National and state boundaries have since changed and a substantial portion of the land once owned by Raja Rajkrishna Deb is now in Bangladesh. But all this is still in the hands of a court-appointed receiver.

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