Chowmahalla Palace. (DC File Photo)
The Chow Mahalla and Falaknuma palaces are among the last surviving remnants of the Asaf Jahi period. The palaces, which are the private properties of the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, were in a state of neglect for decades after his death. The Government of Hyderabad had an opportunity to acquire them after the Police Action in September 1948 but it hesitated to do so, according to information available now.
A massive and complex exercise of the transfer of assets was initiated after the merger of Hyderabad with the Union of India. The assets that belonged to the Nizam’s government were transferred to the Government of Hyderabad. They included Bella Vista, Shah Manzil, and Hyderabad House in Delhi, which were used as official residences or government guest houses. The government also took over land belonging to Sirf-e-khas Mubarak (crown land) — the revenue from which used to go to Nizam’s personal kitty during his rule. In return, the government fixed an annual privy purse of pay Rs.50 lakh to the Nizam.
Then there were personal properties of the Nizam like the palaces which became a bone of contention. The Falaknuma and Chow Mahalla were of special interest.
About the Falaknuma palace which had been lying vacant for decades, the ministry of state officials thought that ‘it was of no earthly use to anyone’ and therefore should be handed over to the government for public use such as the establishment of a national library. They grudgingly accepted the Chow Mahalla palace as Nizam’s personal property since ‘the Hyderabad Government is not anxious to take it over," according to declassified papers of the ministry of states.
Once the assets owned by the Nizam’s government were transferred to the Government of Hyderabad, the Nizam was asked to submit an inventory of all his personal assets. The officials in Hyderabad and Delhi were flabbergasted when the list arrived — it had 1,531 entries with several sub-lists contained in 98 typed pages. The preparation of the inventory and its verification took nearly five years. The exercise was completed in 1953.
In all, there were 26 lists of ‘kothiyats, mahalats and buildings’ that the Nizam owned in Hyderabad, Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Ooty and so on. These lists included palaces like Nazari Bagh, Osman Mansion, Falaknuma, Chow Mahalla in Hyderabad and others like Harewood and Cedar bungalows in Ooty, Sabe palace in Calcutta and the Masulipatnam kothi in Machilipatnam.
Thousands of havelis, deodis, bungalows, villas, kothis, cottages, gardens, malgis, garages, stables, cattle sheds, shadi khanas, buggykhanas, kamans, gates, compounds, baolis, chabutaras, fish markets, vegetable markets, grain mandis, slaughterhouses, playgrounds school buildings and rows of houses spread over the nooks and corners of Hyderabad were listed as personal properties of Mir Osman Ali Khan.
In addition, the Nizam claimed the ownership of several markets in their entirety – Gunfoundry Bazaar, Mahbub Chowk, Mangal Haat, Osmangunj, mango market – and even the Qutub Shahi tombs and Parade Pavilion in the Fateh Maidan. Vast tracts of land categorised as kanchajats or grasslands, at 33 locations were also the Nizam’s.
"Even if all this is technically his, we shall have to make him give up a number of properties to the State. Some of the properties are used for public purposes and some others have come to the Nizam by way of gift, escheat, or confiscation.
These should be considered as State properties," wrote M.N. Buch, joint secretary in the ministry of states in September 1950. Consequently, properties like the Parade Pavilion and Madrasa-i-Aaliya building were struck off the list of personal properties. So were 23,000 acres of pasture land that the Nizam claimed as his.
The bed of the river Musi also became a bone of contention during the transfer of assets, with the Nizam claiming ownership over it since the revenue from sand mining was going to his personal kitty during his reign. Chief Secretary of Government of Hyderabad, K. Srinivasan, rejected this while noting that the river bed belonged to the government as a matter of legal right.
When government officials quizzed Zain Yar Jung, the Nizam’s interlocutor, on how the Nizam could acquire so many properties in Hyderabad, he revealed that "the sirf-e-khas yielded an annual surplus of Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore and this money was utilized by Nizam to buy more properties." Both the central and Hyderabad officials were keen that the Nizam should be persuaded to hand over palaces to the state for public use on nominal rent, as he would be unable to maintain them for a long time. And is what exactly happened.
[The writer is a journalist and author based in New Delhi]