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Friday, November 8, 2019

Alwarpet road ~ Pithapuram and the Queen who went global


Dispute in sharing of water between riparian States is nothing new ! ~ yet this case involving Maharaja of Pithapuram sounds pretty interesting !  As you travel in Vijayawada – Visakhapatnam section, after Samarlakota [Samalkot] Jn – where line branches to Kakinada, comes this small Railway station – Pithapuram, around 12 kms from Samalkot…. .. and a web search links to a Maharani and her lavish ways of life and some Chennai connection too !

Pithapuram or Peetika Puram is a town and a municipality in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.  The temple town is one of fifty five Sakti Peetikas. Shripada Shri Vallabha, worshipped to be an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya by his devotees, lived in Pithapuram.. . and in Alwarpet, Chennai there are two streets bearing the names of  Maharajah Surya Rao and Maharani Chinnamma Roads,  it was their daughter who made ripples .. ..   Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda !  who passed away in 1989 in France at the age of 72. She was rumoured to travel with no less than a thousand sarees,  coordinated with shoes and furs.  She was a car enthusiast and was reportedly very fond of her Mercedes W126 which was custom-made for her by Mercedes Benz. At the 1969 Ascot Gold Cup, she invited guests to touch the 30-carat (6.0 g) sapphire on her right hand for good luck.

Rao Venkata Kumara Mahipati Surya Rau (1885–1964) was Maharajah of Pithapuram. He was  affectionately known as  "Abhinava Krishnadevaraya". Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda was his daughter. It is stated that Surya Rau was born to Raja Gangadhara Rau and Maharani Mangamamba Devi in 1885 in the Pithapuram Fort and was named 'Suryaraya'. Gangadhar Rau married seven wives, but did not bear any children for sometime. Before his birth, Maharajah adopted a boy from the Venkatagiri royal family. This late birth and adoption led to endless litigation between 1891 and 1899. Finally the Privy Council decided in favour of the new-born prince.  He married Chinnamamba Devi in 1905,  the eldest daughter of Rajah Venkata Ramayya Appa Rao Bahadur, Zamindar of Kapileswarapuram (Nuzvid).  The zamindar of Pithapuram sponsored the monumental classical Telugu dictionary, Suryarayandhranighantuvu, and even commissioned the first typewriter in Telugu.

His daughter, Sita Devi first married  Apparao Bahadur, Zamindar of Vuyyuru. Years later, at Madras Horse races in 1943, she was to meet  her second husband, Pratap Singh Gaekwar of Baroda.   The Gaekwad was, at that time, considered the eighth richest man in the world and the second richest Indian prince.  The marriage raised  consternation with the British authorities, as this violated the antibigamy laws of that time.   They were to sail out and settle elsewhere in Monaco, living a lavish life.

In 1937 at Madras High Court this interesting case came up before Judge - Alfred Henry Lionel Leach, C.J.   it was an appeal arising  out of a suit filed before the Deputy Collector, Cocanada, under Section 77 of the Madras Estates Land Act, 1908, by the Maharajah of Pithapuram, to recover from the appellant and 5 other tenants an aggregate sum of Rs. 11-1-4 for water taken by them without his permission from his tank for the purpose of raising wet crops on dry lands. 

It was claimed that the  defendants have no right whatever to use the said water for the jirayati dry lands in the aforesaid manner. As the defendants used the said water unjustly the amount of Rs. 9-15-7 towards tirva and cesses thereon, with interest (was due) and in spite of several demands by the plaintiff's officials, both oral and written, the defendants did not pay as mentioned above.

The difference between this sum of Rs. 9-15-7 and Rs. 11-1-4 represents the claim for interest. The main lines of defence were: (1) the Revenue Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit as it was a suit in tort; (2) even if it could be treated as a suit for rent it could not be maintained as it amounted to a claim for enhanced rent contrary to the provisions of the Act; and (3) the terms of the patta precluded the plaintiff seeking extra rent. The appellant denied that the water belonged to the plaintiff and alleged that he had used it for only one Fasli (1338), and then not on drylands. The Deputy Collector dismissed the suit holding that the water belonged to the defendants and that the terms of the patta precluded the plaintiff from claiming any enhanced rent.

An appeal followed to the District Judge of East Godavari, who held that the tank did belong to the plaintiff and that water had been used for the three Faslis mentioned in the plaint on dry lands belonging to the defendants. To the    contention that the suit is in reality a suit to recover damages for tort, it should be borne in mind that it was instituted under the provisions of Section 77 of the Act which relates only to the recovery of arrears of rent. Section 3(11) defines 'rent' as meaning whatever is lawfully payable in money or in kind or in both to a landholder by a ryot for the use or occupation of land for the purpose of agriculture and includes whatever is lawfully payable on account of water supplied by the landholder or taken without his permission for cultivation of land where the charge for water has not been consolidated with the charge for the use or occupation of the land

A Full Bench of this Court consisting of Ramesam, Wallace and Jackson, JJ., considered the question in Doraiswami Gurukkal v. Subramania Gurukkal (1927) 54 M.L.J. 361 : I.L.R. 51 Mad. 266 (F.B.). In this case a ryot had used for the purpose of cultivating his land water from a tank belonging to Government, and Government required the landlord to pay for the water taken by the ryot. The landlord then sought to recover from the ryot what he had been compelled to pay to Government, and the question was whether this was a claim for enhancement of rent within the meaning of Section 24.

It is settled that you should on no account demand a reduction or remission of cist either on account of excess inam or want of rain or for any other reason and that I should on no account enhance the cist at any time on the said kamatham (holding), but when the patta was drawn up it was never contemplated that the tenants would take water from the landlord's tank without his permission. The fact that the parties did not contemplate an increase in rent in the ordinary way does not preclude the landlord from requiring his tenants to pay for something taken without his permission. The tenants took the water behind the back of their landlord and must pay for it. The law says that it may be recovered as rent and that is what the plaintiff sought to do in the suit out of which this appeal arises.

                             It follows that we consider that the decision of the learned District Judge is correct and that the plaintiff is entitled to hold the decree granted to him. It has, however, been brought to our notice, that the appellant was in fact a tenant for only one fasli (1338), and he will be only liable personally in respect of that year. The rent for three years will of course be a charge on the land. The decree will be modified to this extent. The appeal having failed the respondent is entitled to his costs.

The judgement inter-alia stated that the zamindar will be entitled, even under the older decisions, to claim payment when water is taken from his tank only if there is a contract express or implied between the parties providing for such payment. It is no doubt true that in many cases there used to be a clause to this effect in the pattas, providing for the contingency of the tenant taking water from the landlord's tank for raising wet crop on dry land or a second crop on a single crop wet land; but I cannot accede to the contention that the zamindar's right is limited to such cases.

Interesting !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
8th Nov. 2o19

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