The Delhi High Court denied a request by a woman seeking possession of the historic Red Fort, alleging that she is the widow of late Mirza Mohammed Bedar Bakht, the great-grandson and legitimate successor of the final Mughal emperor late Bahadur Shah Zafar II, citing an undue wait of over a century.
According to reports, Sultana Begum, who lives in Kolkata, said that her late husband managed to flee to India from Rangoon, where the East India Company banished the last Mughal emperor. Her allegation was that once her husband returned to India, the Government of India recognised him as Bahadur Shah II’s heir in 1960, and she began receiving a pension after his death in 1980.
Sultana Begum filed a lawsuit in court to obtain the rights to the Red Fort as well as compensation from the union government for the claimed illegal possession of the historic site for numerous years. Justice Rekha Palli demanded an explanation on Monday for the delay in bringing the case and requesting the claim after 150 years.
‘First explain the delay…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’, the court told the counsel for the petitioner.
‘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’, the court said.
When the petitioner’s lawyer claimed that his client was illiterate and couldn’t file the plea, the court ruled that ‘merely because the petitioner is an illiterate person, there is no reason as to why if the petitioner’s predecessors were aggrieved by any action of the East India Company, no steps were taken in this regard at the relevant time or soon thereafter’.
The court stated the petition was a waste of time and denied any relief while emphasising that he was not debating the merits of the case.