Fairytale end to royal fortune tussle

Two elderly Indian princesses have inherited a £2.5 billion ($4.2 billion) fortune after winning one of the country's longest-running royal legal battles.

The two surviving children of the Maharaja of Faridkot, Sir Harinder Singh Brar, will now take control of one of the country's largest surviving royal fortunes after a court ruled that they had been cheated out of their inheritance by palace staff who forged his final will.

The maharaja died aged 74 in 1989 after a long decline following the death of his son and heir Tikka in a motor accident. He left a vast fortune including Faridkot House in the heart of Delhi, Manimajra Fort in Faridkot, his mountain retreat at Mashobra, near the Viceroy's summer residence in the foothills of the Himalayas, and a fleet of vintage cars in properties in Shimla. He owned a number of Rolls-Royces, military cars and several Second World War aircraft which he kept at his 22-acre aerodrome.

His three daughters, widow and elderly mother had expected to inherit his estate, but found instead he had left a will apparently giving it all to his army of staff and retainers through a trust established for their exclusive benefit.

The daughters were given positions as officers of the Meharwal Khewaji Trust, created under the terms of his apparent will, and nominal salaries of between pounds 12 and pounds 15 a month.

The three sisters launched a legal action to challenge the will in 1992. One of the sisters, Maheepinder Kaur, died of heart failure, aged 62, at her home in Mashobra in 2002.

Her two older sisters, Amrit Kaur and Deepinder, known as "Princess Bunty", will now share the inheritance as new billionaires, although sources close to the family said it will not greatly change their lifestyles. They are both in their seventies and continued to live in some luxury after they married.

Deepinder has been the Maharaniadirani of Burdwan, near Calcutta, since she married the heir of the princely state in 1959. Her husband is Maharajadhiraja Dr Saday Chand Mehtab, whose father owned the Jahangir Diamond - the celebrated 83-carat stone once set in the beak of one of the Mughal peacock thrones.

"They are very well-off indeed and have been having a good life," said a source close to the case who said the sisters were determined to protect their privacy following their victory. Many of the properties and estates are believed to have fallen into neglect since the Meharwal Khewarji Trust took control of them. Revenue officials launched a long investigation into the estate at Mashobra to establish its ownership and found it had been illegally transferred to the trust.


Last week a Chandigarh magistrate ruled that the sisters had been cheated out of their inheritance by their father's staff in collusion with lawyers who forged a will several years before he died.

"We have won the case after 21 years," their advocate Vikas Jain exclaimed.

Their victory marks the end of a series of bitter legal battles over the vast riches of several Indian royal families. The dispute between the grandchildren of Gyatri Devi, the Rajmata of Jaipur, and their relations over their father's £250 million estate is still in the courts after 16 years.

The Faridkot royals, descendants of desert rulers in Rajasthan, have a long history of losing and regaining their estate, dating from the Sikh Wars.

Sir Harinder Singh Brar, a senior officer who served in the Deccan Horse cavalry regiment, was regarded as one of the more astute of the former Indian royals who had managed to retain his wealth after India's independence stripped them of their power.

The Daily Telegraph, London