Balvant Bhavan, a single-storeyed property of the second chief minister of Gujarat, late Balvantrai Mehta, in Bhavnagar, which was donated to a Delhi-based voluntary organisation by Mehta’s family, has become the subject of a civil suit filed in a Bhavnagar city court.
Alleging breach of a conditional Gift Deed under which the property was donated, close family members of Mehta have filed the suit against the organisation, Servants of the People Society (SOPS). The suit has been filed by Mehta‘s daughter-in-law Rakshaben Mehta (82), and his close relatives, Bhaskarbhai Vyas (80) and Nilaben Oza (73).
In the civil suit, filed before the court of Principal Senior Civil Judge of Bhavnagar last month, SOPS and 10 of its office bearers or members have been listed as defendants including its president Deepak Malviya.
Balvantrai Mehta had died during the Indo-Pak war on September 19, 1965, when the aircraft he was travelling in along with his wife and a few others was shot down by Pakistan Air Force. Following his death, his son – late Prabhakar Mehta – had donated the property to SOPS “for the welfare of the people of Saurashtra” through a Registered Gift Deed on December 17, 1969. SOPS was founded by freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai and Balvantrai Mehta had also worked as its president once.
As per the civil suit, “The said gift deed is not outright gift deed, but the same is a conditional Gift Deed. There are two conditions stipulated in the said gift deed – (1) The gifted property is to be used for the welfare and upliftment of the people of Saurashtra, and (2) the name “Balvant Bhavan” should always be kept as it is.”
According to Mehta’s family, “The Balvant Bhavan is to be used for the social activities and under no circumstances it can be allowed to be used for any residential purpose or any of the purposes contrary to the conditions laid down in the said gift deed.”
However, by the end of 2017, they reportedly came to know that the first floor of Balvant Bhavan was being utilized for residential purpose by one of the defendants in the civil suit and vice president of SOPS, Kirti Pandya, along with his family that includes his son, daughter-in-law, grandson and his wife.
Subsequently, Rakshaben and Bhaskarbhai started registering their objections with the office bearers of SOPS. In response, SOPS appointed a committee to inquire into their grievances.
Later, in reply to various communications of Rakshaben and Bhaskarbhai, Malviya reportedly wrote, “In our view, it would be in the fitness of things if Pandya be allowed to continue in the said accommodation, along with his grandson, grandson’s wife and himself. As he (Pandya) has already sent his son and daughter-in-law away from the existing accommodation.”
The petitioners took objection to this reply and said, “…under the guise of providing the residential accommodation to its members the very object of the gift cannot be frustrated.”
Nilaben and a several other Bhavnagar residents also wrote a letter in this regard to the offices of Prime Minister, Gujarat Governor and Gujarat Chief Minister seeking their intervention.
Eventually, the petitioners filed the civil suit last month. Their advocate, Sanjay Trivedi, said that the suit has been filed and service of the same to the defendants is in process.
Meanwhile, Kirti Pandya died recently and his grandson is reportedly staying on the first floor of Balvant Bhavan.
Rakshaben Mehta, who lives in Mumbai, told The Indian Express, “When the conditional gift deed is clearly providing that the property has to be utilised for welfare of the people, its residential usage is clear breach of the gift deed.”
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“We want amicable resolution of the issue, but when it did not happen despite our repeated attempts, we had to file the civil suit. Pandya has died, but his grandson is living at Balvant Bhavan. If SOPS authorities get the property vacated and start its use as envisaged in the gift deed, we will withdraw our civil suit.”
Nilaben, who is also the former Vice-Chancellor of Bhavnagar University, said, “We have been witnessing for years that no significant social work is being done from there and the property has remained there only for the welfare of a family.”
Denying the allegations, president of SOPS Deepak Malviya said that there is no violation of the Gift Deed at Balvant Bhavan.
“Kirti Pandya used to do work (at Balvant Bhavan) with full honesty as per his capabilities. We (SOPS) had given him the property to live and do work there. Now, he has died a natural death. He was 79 and so we did not ask him to vacate the property because if something had happened to him then people would have blamed us. Our executive committee will take decision on getting the property vacated from his (Pandya’s) grandson,” said Malviya adding that they will give their reply in the court to the civil suit.