Another blueblooded fight for property

Published: Monday, August 29, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Varodra:The royalty is dead but long live the battle royale between the two heirs of the Gaekward family, erstwhile rulers of the princely state of Baroda, for control of ancestral property estimated at over Rs 10,000 crore.

The blueblood has failed to act as the unifying factor as the 15-year-old battle fought in court rooms and corporate forums not only pitted brother against brother, who shared the passion for politics, but also two key members of the Gennext who are drawn to cricket and golf in equal measure.

A judicial magistrate in a Vadodra court last month ordered a probe into alleged "conspiracy" by Ranjitsinh Gaekward and his sister Mrunalinidevi Puar to sell off the immovable properties worth crores belonging to a family firm Aulokik Trading (ATIC).

The probe was ordered on a complaint from the rival camp of Sangramsinh Gaekwad, the youngest brother of Baroda's last ruler Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad.

The complaint opened a new front in the battle which has raged in various judicial and corporate forums including the Supreme Court for nearly 15 years.

Sangram has also questioned the right of his late mother Rajmata Shantidevi over the property left by Fatehsinhrao who died childless in 1998.

The disputed property includes the Rs 3500 crore Laxmi Vilas Palace having 100 rooms surrounded by 700 acres of lush green land located in the heart of the city, Nazarbaug Palace, Mehrangarh estate in Juhu (Mumbai), priceless heirlooms, large chunk of real estate, bungalows and palaces.

The battle started in September 1990 when Sangramsinh filed a complaint of fraud against Puar, for allocating 1500 shares of Aulokik in her name to gain control of the company. He also named Ranjitsinh and his wife in the complaint.

Fatehsinh had floated this company for protecting the family properties. Gaekwad Investment Corporation (GIC) is another family held company. Sangramsinh is chairman of GIC which, as per his legal stand, controls ATIC.

The local civil court injunction froze the shares. Later, the Company Law Board confirmed the injunction and also stayed the sale of property by ATIC till the final disposal of the case. Now, the civil suit has been merged in the CLB case which awaits final disposal. However, after the case reached the Supreme Court last May, it upheld Sangram's control of GIC.

In the local civil court, he was also able to secure an injuntion on the sale of property by Shantidevi till the disposal of the case.

The Ranjitsinh camp took the matter to Gujarat High Court which ruled that Shantidevi was the sole owner of the property.

However, when Sangram approached Supreme Court, it referred the matter back to the local civil court directing it to collect the minutest evidence and not get influenced by the high court verdict before giving the final judgement.

After Shantidevi's death in 2002, Sangramsinh challenged the will left by his mother alleging it was fabricated by his brother and sister. The will totally disinherited him from all ancestral property.

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