February 19, 2020
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The Palace Of Slippery Floors

The Palace Of Slippery Floors
Can a disputed piece of property be sold off by the government? When the GoI disposed of Hotel Lakshmi Vilas, Udaipur, to an influential Delhi-based business group in February 2002 for a measly Rs 7.52 crore, many eyebrows were raised. Last month, the Rajasthan High Court issued notices to the government and other respondents in a case filed by the hotel’s former employee Amba Lal Nayak. The petition contends that the property has been undersold because its actual worth is Rs 151 crore.

The hotel has been a bone of contention for some time now. The petitioner has argued that a basic clause of the 1949 agreement to merge the princely states to form Rajasthan was that the rulers were to be allowed to retain private property but their state properties were to be vested in the new state of Rajasthan. Along with Lakshmi Vilas Palace, seven properties of Mewar were listed in records as state property. None of these, however, came into the state’s possession. Hotel Lakshmi Vilas was given to the government in 1961, against tax arrears of the former ruler’s family. But the point is that Arvind Singh Mewar, who gave up the property, didn’t own it in the first place. This isn’t the first case to be filed on the heritage property. The late Balwant Singh Mehta, a freedom fighter and a member of the Constituent Assembly, had challenged its ownership in 1980. Since then it has come up in various courts and is still pending settlement. The ITDC, which was operating the hotel since 1969, handed it over to Bharat Hotels Private Limited in February 2002. Curiously, the fact that the ITDC had listed Lakshmi Vilas among its assets with regard to which terms of purchase/lease of land or registration of title deeds had not been effected did not come in the way of the sale; nor did an objection from the petitioner to the public notice for the hotel’s de-merger.

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