Jinnah House row: Bombay HC allows Nusli Wadia to replace his mother as petitioner

The Bombay HC has allowed Wadia Group chairman Nusli Wadia, to replace his late mother Dina Wadia, as a petitioner in a case she had filed, to claim ownership of Jinnah House in Malabar Hill

A division bench of the Bombay High Court, of justices Ranjit More and Anuja Prabhudessai, on August 8, 2018, has allowed an application filed by Wadia Group chairman Nusli Neville Wadia, seeking to replace his mother Dina Wadia as the petitioner, following her death last year, in the ownership dispute over Jinnah House. The union government had opposed Nusli Wadia’s plea. ‘Jinnah House’, a seafront bungalow on Malabar Hill in south Mumbai, built by Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, has been at the centre of a prolonged legal battle between Jinnah’s daughter Dina Wadia and the Indian government.

Dina Wadia had, in August 2007, approached the high court, claiming that being the sole legal heir of Jinnah, she should get the possession of the house. After she passed away on November 2, 2017, in New York at the age of 98, Nusli Wadia sought to replace her. The industrialist relied on his mother’s will, dated April 16, 2009, where he was appointed as the executor. The union government’s counsel, Adwait Sethna, opposed the application, arguing that Nusli Wadia had not obtained probate of the will (probate is the certification of a will as valid, by the high court) and so, he could not substitute his mother in the case. In its order, the high court said it was keeping this issue open and it could be raised at the time of the hearing of the main petition about Jinnah House’s ownership. For now, it was allowing Nusli Wadia to be substituted as the petitioner, the court said.

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Dina Wadia was the only child of Jinnah and his Parsi wife, Rattanbai Petit. According to her petition, the erstwhile state of Bombay took over the property after Jinnah’s death, as his sister Fatima Jinnah was the custodian of his will and she was declared an evacuee (one who migrated to Pakistan, after partition), in 1949. The petition claimed that Jinnah’s will was never probated by the Bombay High Court and therefore, had no effect. Fatima Jinnah, therefore, could not be the legal owner and so, the house should be handed over to his (Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s) legal heir, Dina Wadia contended.

Dina Wadia was the sole legal heir of Jinnah both, under the Hindu Law (applicable to the Khoja community, to which Jinnah belonged, before independence) or the Shia Muslim law, the petition said. The union government opposed the plea, stating that the Jinnah House belonged to the Indian government and only Fatima Jinnah or her legal heirs, could claim any rights over it. Fatima Jinnah died in 1967. The government also raised the issue of delay in filing of the petition by Dina Wadia. The hearing of the petition will resume in due course.