Official assignee restrained from taking over Mohatta Palace

Published November 9, 2021
view of Mohatta Palace. — Photo from Mohattapalacemuseum.com/File
view of Mohatta Palace. — Photo from Mohattapalacemuseum.com/File

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Monday restrained the official assignee from taking over the possession of Qasr-e-Fatima, commonly known as Mohatta Palace, till Nov 18 as the provincial government filed an intra-court appeal against an earlier order of the SHC.

A division bench headed by Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi also issued notices for next hearing to the respondents/legal heirs of the plaintiff, who had filed a suit in 1971 about Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah’s heritage property located in Clifton.

The Sindh government, through the culture secretary and director general antiquities & archaeology, filed an appeal against two orders of a single-judge bench directing the official assignee to take over the building and to set up a medical college/hospital there as well as not to call the property in question with any name other than Qasr-e-Fatima.

At the outset of the hearing, Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin submitted that in pursuant of the impugned order, the official assignee had written a letter to him as well as the director of the culture department scheduling a meeting on Nov 3 for the purpose of facilitating his taking over possession of the property.

SHC issues notices on Sindh govt plea against order to set up medical college at heritage building

He submitted that a provincial law officer attended the meeting and requested for postponement of the handing over of the property on the ground that an appeal was being filed against the order.

He submitted that the official assignee had postponed the meeting till Nov 9 when he would take over the building in question to the great prejudice and an irreparable loss of the appellants unless the impugned orders were suspended.

At this, Justice Abbasi reminded him that an assistant advocate general (AAG) had also given consent for establishing a medical college on the premises of the property in question.

The AG submitted that the AAG was a junior officer and was appointed only a couple of months ago.

The bench also inquired from Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, the counsel for Mohatta Palace Gallery Trust, as how did it establish a museum and who had given the trust possession of the palace.

He submitted that his client was given possession by the provincial government, which had formed the trust.

Advocate Khwaja Shamsul Islam, representing the respondents, requested the bench to fix the matter to an early date since it had been lingering on for more than half a century.

Justice Abbasi observed that the bench would try to hear the appeal on a day-to-day basis.

The appellants submitted that AAG Ghulam Akbar Uqaili had given the consent to the impugned order of Oct 13 without any authority as he did not have any instruction to record his consent and the same was not binding on the appellants.

They submitted that the approval of sale of the property in question was recorded in an order of the SHC in March 1993 as the provincial government had purchased the property after paying sale price as all the parties had agreed that the sale price determined by the official assignee was the correct market value of the property in 1993.

They further submitted that with the acceptance of the sale proceeds and handing over the property to the appellants, the property in question no longer formed part of the estate of Miss Jinnah and thus the parties’ claim in the suit before the single bench was now restricted to the money deposited by the government with the nazir of SHC.

They pleaded to suspend the Sept 29 order about the name of the heritage building as well as the Oct 13 order passed by the single-judge bench.

The Mohatta Palace Gallery Trust, which is currently maintaining a museum at Mohatta Palace, also filed an application through its trustee and authorised person Abdul Hamid Akhund to become intervener in the matter.

On Oct 13, the SHC had directed the official assignee to take over the possession of the building and to make a list of all inventory available in the building.

The order was passed on a suit filed by a relative of Miss Jinnah about the administration of her moveable and immovable properties including Qasr-e-Fatima in 1971 against the Shireen Jinnah Charitable Trust and others.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2021

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