Thursday, August 11, 2011

How son of Pak journo got assets in India


Around 15 years ago the death of a retired professor of agriculture in Allahabad led to a bitter legal battle that finally culminated in his property being awarded to a Pakistani citizen. The case assumed importance as the judge pronounced that a Pakistani national can inherit property in India. The Allahabad high court however did say that the inheritance would be subject to permission of the Reserve Bank of India.

The case relates to the family of famous Arabic scholar Dr Abdul Sattar Siddiqui who was also head of Arabic department at Allahabad University. Dr Siddiqui had two sons Muslim Siddiqui and Zuhair Siddiqui both of whom studied in Allahabad. After finishing his high school Muslim Siddiqui enrolled in the Agricultural Institute for further studies while his younger brother Zuhair did Masters in Political Science. This was before Partition and Zuhair Siddiqui got a job with Dawn newspaper in Delhi.

Zuhair Siddiqui was a sub-editor and after Partition was apparently 'temporarily posted' in Karachi. As his father and brother remained in India he visited them regularly and remained an Indian citizen. It would be interesting to know if there was any provision for a man working in Pakistan to be an Indian citizen. And that too working for a prominent Pakistani English newspaper!

Muslim Siddiqui remained a bachelor all his life and continued to live with his father Dr Siddiqui in Allahabad. With one son in Pakistan, Dr Siddiqui gave away all his property to his eldest son Muslim Siddiqui. In the 1970s within a gap of few years, both Dr Siddiqui and Zuhair Siddiqui died. The former due to old age and the latter in a road accident in Pakistan. Thus Muslim Siddiqui became the absolute owner of the ancestral property in Allahabad which included the bungalow on Muir Road build by Dr Abdul Sattar Siddiqui.

When Muslim Siddiqui died in August 1996, one Bhai Lal Shukla along with the Administrator General of Uttar Pradesh staked claim to the property of the deceased. Bhai Lal Shukla and his wife were employed by Muslim Siddiqui to take care of the bungalow and serve him. However, Bhai Lal Shukla claimed that Muslim Siddiqui had through a will given him all his property and hence he had the sole right over the estate of the deceased.

The Administrator General contended that Bhai Lal Shukla was not related to Muslim Siddiqui and as Zuhair Siddiqui after migrating to Pakistan did not take any steps to stake his claim in his father's property it should be allowed to administrate the estate. The case was adjourned several times covering few years as Suhail, the son of Zuhair Siddiqui was having problems in getting a visa to India from Pakistan. He had visited India on an earlier occasion and as he had overstayed he was facing problem in getting entry to India.

Several witnesses appeared before the court which included friends of the Siddiqui household. One such witness was M Sayeedullah whose testimony perhaps went a long way in establishing that the will brandished by Bhai Lal Shukla could not be relied upon. Sayeedullah was a childhood friend of Muslim Siddiqui and both had studied in the same school. Sayeedullah became a deputy collector in 1945 and ultimately entered the Indian Administrative Service. He was also the son-in-law of M A Rauf, who was independent India's first ambassador to Burma.

Sayeedullah told the court that Bhai Lal Shukla was appointed as a gardener only few years before the death of Muslim Siddiqui. He told the court that during some of his visits he had seen Bhai Lal's wife pressing the feet of Muslim Siddiqui or giving him some medicines. On another occasion when he visited his friend's bungalow unannounced he saw the couple putting him in a car. He told the court that his friend was looking lost and was informed that he was taken to be admitted to the Medical College. However, when he went to the Medical College he found out that his friend was never admitted there.

Some other witnesses informed the court about their suspicion that Muslim Siddiqui was being kept in a state of intoxication by Bhai Lal Shukla and his wife. The court was convinced about the unrealibility of the will shown by Bhai Lal Shukla. However, as Suhail Siddiqui was a Pakistani national there were question marks over his eligibility to own a property in Allahabad in which his father had a share. But as his father died way back in 1979 and did not stake any claim when he was alive, could Suhail Siddiqui become the owner of his uncle's property?

Under The Enemy Property Act, 1968 all immovable property belonging to or held by or managed on behalf of Pakistani nationals after the 1965 Indo-Pak war were put under management of custodian. However, the court in the judgement delivered in 2006 held that this provision does not hold for Pakistani national inheriting property in India. A RBI notification coming as late as 2003 further made it easier for the court to decide the case in favour of Suhail Siddiqui.

According to the notification, a person who is a resident outside India can hold immovable property acquired by way of inheritance from a person resident in India. Thus the son of a Dawn journalist became owner of a property in Allahabad more than fifty years after his father migrated to Pakistan.

I will really appreciate if someone can give me a picture of any of the main players in this case or an update about the Bungalow no 50/184 Muir Road, Allahabad.