HL Deb 30 August 1886 vol 308 cc771-4

said, he rose to ask the Secretary of State for India, Whether he would inquire into the circumstances of the reversing by the late Secretary of State for India of the decision of the Bombay Government in favour of Sirdar Prithi Rao, with the view either of reinstating Sirdar Prithi Rao in his zemindary, or of allowing him to bring his case before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, or of granting him compensation for his removal from the succession to his late brother's property by the late Secretary of State? The last owner of the estate of the Himmet Bahadur family, Ranoji Rao, died August 13, 1877. His widow applied to the Bombay Government for leave to adopt an heir to her late husband, and the Political Agent supported her application, but proposed that her choice should be limited to a son of Prithi Rao, her late husband's brother. The Bombay Government, in a Resolution of December 7, 1877, approved of this proposal, and added that should Prithi Rao decline to give a son for the purpose further reference should be made to the Government. In May, 1878, Prithi Rao submitted a Memorial to the Bombay Government with proofs of his being entitled to succeed to the ancestral zemindary to the exclusion of an adopted son. On full consideration, the Bombay Government affirmed Prithi Rao's right to succeed to the estate by a Resolution dated August 15, 1878. Radhabhai, the widow, countenanced by the Karbhari, or Minister of Kolhapur, a Brahmin, appealed to the Secretary of State against this decision, and the Secretary of State reversed the decision of the Bombay Government, and allowed the widow of the late zemindar to adopt a son unconditionally, by a decision dated May 27, 1880, and confirmed by a despatch of December 23, 1880, of the Secretary of State. He now complained of the conduct of the India Office on three grounds—first, their decision was contrary to Hindoo law; secondly, the India Office or the Secretary of State were morally incompetent to decide upon succession to property dependent on Hindoo law, which should have been decided judicially; thirdly, in dispossessing Prithi Rao no reasons were given to him for the taking away of his rank and property. He would not trouble the House with details of the Hindoo law with regard to adoption, beyond observing that the Bengal school of interpretation was more lax and more favourable to a widow than that of Maharastra. That a brother should succeed a brother who left no children in the case of a State or of an impartible estate carrying the rank of a Sirdar with it was shown in the case of the Gaekwar of Baroda and the succession of the three brothers Gunput Rao, Khunde Rao, and Mulhar Rao to the Gadi of Baroda. Besides, if the India Office had any sound legal ground for their decision which disinherited Sirdar Prithi Rao, why did they refuse to lay it on the Table of the House or even to let it be seen? Prithi Rao has cited the opinions and decisions in his favour of Sir George Clerk, formerly Governor of Bombay, and Sir George Clerk had confirmed to him that his opinion was such as quoted by Prithi Rao. In the next place, how could the India Office take upon itself to decide a question of Hindoo law in opposition to the Bombay Government, which had the advantage of competent interpreters of that law close at hand? Why had it assumed to decide arbitrarily a question of property, which could only be be decided in a satisfactory manner by a judicial hearing? Why did the Secretary of State not request the Chief Justice of Bombay to hear this case, and name two assessors to hear it with him, or else leave it to the Chief Justice to name his assessors? Or why did he not take advantage of the Statute of William IV., and remit the case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council? The Secretary of State had been reminded of this in time if it was true, as was stated in the papers he had received, that the Government of Sir James Fergusson had urged on the Secretary of State that this question was one of exact right, and that the appellant had a legal title to succeed, and that they proposed that the question might be left to the arbitrament of a Judge of the High Court. His third ground of complaint was that, although this question depended entirely on legal issues, Sirdar Prithi Rao had been dispossessed of his rank and property without any reason for it being assigned. It was not till be (Lord Stanley of Alderley) had begun to move in the matter that a letter was written on the 20th of April last to Prithi Rao by the Political Agent, Mr. Lee Warner, professing to give the grounds for the Secretary of State's decision of May 27, 1880. This letter, as an exposition of legal matters, is eminently unsatisfactory, and entirely of a sic volo sic jubeo tenour. The Secretary of State said in this letter— If, as shown by Radhabhai's petition of July 1, 1878, and the Karbhari's report of November 13, 1877, it is possible to get for adoption any other fit boy of the family, I see no just reason for prescribing the selection of any certain boy in any certain manner. No one at all; except that Hindoo law prescribed a certain boy and required the consent of the kinsmen. The noble Lord, in conclusion, asked the Question of which Notice had been given.


My noble Friend the Secretary of State for India is not a Member of the House, and is, therefore, unable to answer the Question of my noble Friend at the Table. By his wish, I answer it with such, lights as I can. There are in the Bombay Presidency a certain number of petty Chieftaincies, of which the rights are decided, not by Courts of Law, but by political authorities; and any appeal from the political authorities is necessarily to the Secretary of State, who decides in Council in the last resort. This is a case of succession depending upon the intricacies of the Hindoo Law of Adoption. With respect to the case itself, I am sorry that I cannot hold out to my noble Friend any hope that it will be re-opened. Whether the present mode of disposing of such cases is the best possible or not, it would be very undesirable that we should depart from the usual law and practice in such matters in any one individual case alone. The worst possible tribunal for re-opening these cases would be this House or the other House of Parliament. My noble Friend wanders with ease through all the mazes of Hindoo law; but we are not most of us similarly qualified to discuss the case, and we should, I am afraid, come to nothing but a very foolish decision. Whether the mode of dealing with these cases is the best possible is a matter which I quite admit is open to discussion. I do not think it would be desirable to send them to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Whether it would be possible to have any machinery in India somewhat after the fashion of that tribunal, without referring these cases to the Secretary of State for India, is, I think, a matter which may be fairly discussed; but it should be discussed on general grounds, and not with reference to any one individual case. I do not wish to express any opinion upon this subject. I am not competent to do so. It is a matter which my noble Friend the Secretary of State for India, when he comes into the House, can discuss with my noble Friend who put the Question. But I fear that, whatever we do with respect to the general law, we cannot possibly depart from it in this individual case.

House adjourned at a quarter before Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.