HC stays DRO's order to take possession of Travancore House

MADURAI: The Madurai bench of the Madras high court on Thursday stayed the Tirunelveli district revenue officer's (DRO) order directing to take possession of "Travancore House and Diwan's Bungalow" in 56.68 acres in Courtallam village in the district.

Admitting a petition by V S Venkatraman, power holder of Travancore King Padmanabha Dasa Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma, Justice N Kirubakaran stayed the order of the DRO. The petitioner submitted the property was the king's private one purchased in 1882 for Rs 18,000 and all the revenue registers specifically mentioned his name.

The Tenkasi tahsildhar has issued a Patta in the king's name in 1973. Subsequently one Damodara Pandian, the caretaker of the house fraudulently obtained it. However the main register mentioned the Maharaja as the owner. agencies

Meanwhile in 2007, Kerala Government obtained the Patta in its favour without any manner of right or title over the property. Venkatraman then submitted a petition to Tamil Nadu Revenue Minister, who forwarded it to Tirunelveli district Collector. But the latter failed to retransfer it, he said.

The Tamil Nadu government, under the provisions of the reorganization of state Act 1956, declared the property as belonging to it and the DRO was directed to take appropriate acion for taking possession.

The petitioner contended that the Act did not stipulate transfer of private property from princely states to Union of India or member states. The DRO had no right to change the title without the real owner's consent, he said.

He said the maharaja's property was private. He had donated 20 acres adjoining the house to a college run by Tamil Nadu government and also 12 acres to a cooperative society school.

Venkatraman said after Pudukottai was merged with Indian territory, the Pudukottai palace was purchased for Rs 27 lakh by Tamil Nadu government to house the collectorate. Similarly the king of Sivaganga had ancestral properties, as also the jaipur royal family.

The Kerala government did not have any document to prove either sale or lease of gift of the properties.The encumbrance certificate for 128 years clearly mentioned it belonged to the maharaja, he said and sought a stay on the DRO's order.

He also prayed to quash the DRO's order and restore the right to the king.

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State to develop prime Courtallam property
Ignatius Pereira
Photo: C. Suresh Kumar

Royal heritage: The Kerala Palace at Courtallam. —
KOLLAM: The State government has taken serious note of the rampant misuse of the Kerala Palace and the nearby Public Works Department (PWD) guesthouse at Courtallam in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, Public Works Minister Mons Joseph has said.
Talking to The Hindu on Monday, the Minister said he had directed Public Works Secretary Tom Jose to prepare a comprehensive report for launching a tourism-oriented revenue-earning project at the two complexes. On submission of the report, the Minister would visit the palace and the guesthouse for an on-the-spot study. The Minister said a lobby with political and business connections was behind the misuse.
The palace and guesthouse complexes consist of 56.6 acres in the heart of Courtallam town. This was the property of the Maharajas of Travancore when Shencotta and Courtallam were under their kingdom. In 1957, both the complexes were handed over to the Kerala government and the PWD was given the management. The PWD division office at Punalur is in direct charge of both.
In addition to the palace, the complex comprises a traditional quadrangle (nalukettu) bungalow, two cottages and a quarter’s line. The structures stand within a sprawling 26-acre land. The nearby guesthouse complex comprises Scorpion Hall, five cottages and the secretary’s cottage.
The official rent for the whole palace is just Rs.1,500 a day. The rent for each room of the nalukettu is Rs.150 a day. The cottages are rented out for Rs.250 each a day. In Scorpion Hall, there are 40 beds and these are rented out at a rate of Rs.10 a bed.
The same applies to the cottages in the guesthouse complex on 30 acres.
The official rent is based on rates decided in 1992.
Courtallam is a money-spinner for the private hotel industry. PWD sources say that rents working out to several times higher than the formal rates are being collected by the lobby, which is de facto in control of the complexes. Receipts are not given to guests.
For a long time the complexes had only six gardeners as staff. Later one gardener was promoted and posted as palace superintendent. Last week, another person was selected from a Public Service Commission list and posted as superintendent. Sources say the average annual rent earned from both the complexes is only Rs.1.5 lakh. But the government spends around Rs.17 lakh by way of salaries and electricity and water charges every year to maintain the complexes. This year the government made an allocation of Rs.50 lakh for maintenance also, the sources.
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