the High Court quashed the communications/orders dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987 passed by the Deputy Secretary, Revenue, Govt. of Rajasthan, District Collector, Jhunjhunu and Tehsildar, Khetri respectively in the matter of taking over the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh by the State under the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956.= condition precedent for initiation of proceedings under the Escheat Act is failure of heirs. In the absence of any finding of failure of heirs, proceedings could not have been initiated. Under Section 4, it is the duty of the Tehsildar to see that there is no one entitled to the property. The proviso clearly prohibits the taking over of property or disturbance of possession thereof, if the property is in the possession of any one.-, in this case, the proceedings under the Escheats Act were initiated and the orders/communications impugned in the writ petition were issued, without any finding of complete failure of heirs. In the absence of formation of the opinion of failure of heirs, the proceedings initiated under the Escheats Act were wholly without jurisdiction.- District Collector clearly erred in rejecting the claims of agnates on the ground that they had withdrawn their objections in the probate proceedings. Withdrawal of objections to the probate proceedings does not estop the agnates and/or cognates from claiming the property upon failure of the probate application.

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6677 OF 2019
(Arising out of SLP(C) No.36771 of 2016)
STATE OF RAJASTHAN AND ORS. ….Appellants
VERSUS
LORD NORTHBROOK AND ORS. ….Respondents
J U D G M E N T
R. BANUMATHI, J.
Leave granted.

  1. This appeal arises out of the judgment dated 17.11.2016
    passed by the High Court of Rajasthan at Jaipur Bench in DB
    Civil Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987 in and by which the High Court
    quashed the communications/orders dated 03.07.1987,
    22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987 passed by the Deputy Secretary,
    Revenue, Govt. of Rajasthan, District Collector, Jhunjhunu and
    Tehsildar, Khetri respectively in the matter of taking over the
    properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh by the State under the
    Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956.
    1
  2. Sh. Raja Sardar Singh expired on 28.01.1987 intestate and
    without any legal heirs. Sh. Raja Sardar Singh was a Bar at law
    from England, a member of the Constituent Assembly, a Rajya
    Sabha Member and also Ambassador to Laos and a highly
    educated person. He died on 28.01.1987 as a childless widower
    and at that time, he was a resident of No.5, Sardar Patel Marg,
    New Delhi. Sh. Raja Sardar Singh left behind him number of
    valuable properties such as Khetri House Delhi, Hotel Khetri
    Jaipur, Kothi Sukh Mahal, Kothi Jai Niwas, Kothi Amar Hall,
    Nizamat Building, Ajit Niwas Bagh Farm, Record Room, Havili
    Prohitji Wali, Dera Brijlaji Wala, Farrash Khana Chabutra, Tin
    Shed Mela Gugaji and Sabka Patwar Ghar, Jhunjhunu and other
    movable and immovable properties. On 16.02.1987, the
    Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO), Khetri sent a letter to the District
    Collector, Jhunjhunu stating that an information has been
    received that Sh. Raja Sardar Singh expired in Mumbai on
    28.01.1987 without any legal heir and that he has executed one
    Will on 30.10.1985. Sh. Raja Sardar Singh executed a Codicil on
    07.11.1985. Based on the Will/Codicil, a trust called “Khetri Trust”
    was constituted with four Trustees.
    2
  3. On 24.02.1987, one Dwarka Prasad Parik filed application
    before the Tehsildar, Jaipur stating that Sh. Raja Sardar Singh
    died without heirs and that there are several valuable properties
    left behind him. The said Dwarka Prasad alleged that after the
    death of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh, the Manager, Nirbhay Singh and
    other staff are removing the valuable articles by loading in the
    trucks and therefore, immediate action be taken which is
    necessary for taking the properties into State custody. The said
    Dwarka Prasad also prayed that the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar
    Singh be declared as the properties of the State and immediate
    action be taken for its management so that the same can be
    saved from displacement and removal.
  4. Public Notice by the Tehsildar:- A probe was made upon
    the letter dated 16.02.1987 by one Mangilal who informed the
    District Collector, Jhunjhunu about the death of Sh. Raja Sardar
    Singh and that he died without any legal heir. Hence, the first
    condition for initiating proceedings under the provisions of Section
    4 of the Rajasthan Escheats Act, 1956 i.e. “Upon receipt of
    information as to the existence within Tehsil of any property of
    which the Act applies. Whether or not in the possession of any
    person” has been satisfied. The SDO, Khetri has sent a report on
    3
    16.02.1987 to the District Collector, Jhunjhunu stating that Sh.
    Raja Sardar Singh expired in Mumbai on 28.01.1987 without any
    legal heir and that he has executed one Will by virtue of which a
    trust by name “Khetri Trust” was constituted and late Sh. Raja
    Sardar Singh has donated his movable and immovable properties
    to the said trust and the said report of the SDO has also made it
    clear that Sh. Raja Sardar Singh has no brother or sister nor any
    child and that he was a widower. On 27.02.1987, the Tehsildar,
    Jaipur brought out a Public Notice inter alia stating that any
    person who has any interest in the properties of the deceased Sh.
    Raja Sardar Singh, should be present before him. On 28.02.1987,
    the District Collector sent a letter to the Tehsildar to prepare the
    inventories of the moveable and immoveable properties of Sh.
    Raja Sardar Singh for the purpose of proceeding under the
    Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956. On 04.03.1987, Naib
    Tehsildar issued a notice to Nirbhay Singh, Manager of Hotel
    Khetri informing him that he has been appointed as the Inquiry
    Officer and directing him to produce all the documents on
    05.03.1987. In response to the said Notice, Nirbhay Singh,
    Manager on behalf of Khetri Trust filed response stating that Sh.
    Raja Sardar Singh, before his death, had vested his movable and
    4
    immovable properties in Khetri Trust and that the Trustees are
    running the Hotel and that the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar
    Singh do not fall within the ambit of Article 296 of the Constitution
    of India or under the provisions of the Rajasthan Escheats
    Regulation Act, 1956 (“The Escheats Act”).
  5. The Tehsildar issued a Notice dated 07.03.1987 to Nirbhay
    Singh calling upon him to appear personally on 12.03.1987 and
    produce all the documents pertaining to the said properties or
    else it would be presumed that the properties which are in
    possession of Nirbhay Singh are completely unclaimed. The said
    Nirbhay Singh appeared before the Tehsildar on 12.03.1987 and
    filed his response informing about filing of Probate Case before
    the Delhi High Court and that the Trust is in actual possession of
    the Khetri House and the entire movable and immovable
    properties and that he is representing as Manager of the Trust.
    When the matters stood thus pending before the Tehsildar, the
    Trustees filed Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987 on 10.03.1987
    before the High Court of Delhi for probate of the Will.
  6. To initiate the proceedings under the Escheats Act, the
    Collector addressed a letter dated 15.06.1987 to the Government
    of Rajasthan. After referring to the said letter of the Collector
    5
    dated 15.06.1987, Dy. Secretary, Government of Rajasthan
    passed the order dated 03.07.1987 which reads as under:-
    “Government of Rajasthan
    Revenue (Group-3) Department
    No.10(4)/Raj/Group-3/G/87 Dated 3.7.1987
    To
    District Collector, Jhunjhunu
    Sub: Regarding possession and ownership of movable and
    immovable properties of late Raja Bahadur Singh Khetri.
    Ref: Your letter No.1955/Nyay/87 dated 15.06.1987
    Sir,
    From the captioned subject and contents of your order, it is
    deemed that Shri Raja Bahadur Singh had died intestate. The
    properties of late Raja Bahadur Sardar Singh would come under the
    Rajasthan Escheat Regulation Act 1956, therefore proceedings
    under the relevant provisions of Rajasthan Escheat Regulation Act
    1956 be initiated in regard to the properties situated at Jhunjhunu
    and the concerned District Collectors be informed about the
    properties lying in other Districts. In regard to the properties situated
    outside the State of Rajasthan concerned State Government be
    informed.
    After doing the needful, the undersigned will be informed.
    R.S. Mittal
    Deputy Secretary
    Government of Rajasthan”
    After referring to the above proceeding of Government of
    Rajasthan, the District Collector vide letter dated 22.07.1987
    addressing the Tehsildar, Khetri stated that the properties of
    deceased Sh. Raja Sardar Singh situated in the State of
    Rajasthan are governed by the provisions of the Escheats Act
    and directed that the proceedings under the Escheats Act be
    6
    initiated in respect of properties of late Sh. Raja Sardar Singh of
    Khetri which are situated in Khetri, District Jhunjhunu. In the said
    letter, the District Collector further stated that the possession of
    the unclaimed properties be taken over in favour of the State and
    to take necessary action in this regard at the earliest. The letter
    of the District Collector also states that the other properties
    owned by Sh. Raja Sardar Singh in other States or abroad be
    collected and action be taken accordingly. Based on the said
    proceedings of the District Collector, the Tehsildar has taken
    possession of the properties in Khetri vide Spot Possession
    Report (31.07.1987). In the Spot Possession Report, it was
    mentioned that the seals of Khetri Trust were affixed on the gates
    and keys of some of the other properties are with Khetri Trust in
    Delhi. The Spot Possession Report also refers to leasing of some
    of the properties from the time of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh and
    running of a School in one of the properties. The immovable
    properties, in particular, the agricultural lands and orchards were
    attached by the proceeding dated 03.08.1987. The Tehsildar
    submitted a report to the SDO, Khetri containing a list of
    properties which were taken over in custody of the State. In the
    said Report, it was stated that some of the properties were under
    7
    lock put by the Trust. The Tehsildar also sent another Report
    dated 24.05.1989 to the District Collector, Jhunjhunu containing a
    list of properties which were taken over in custody of the State
    and also that some of the properties were in lock and that the
    keys are with the Trust.
  7. Other Proceedings:- Various cases have been filed in
    respect of movable and immovable properties of Sh. Raja Sardar
    Singh. First one was the application under Section 195 of the
    Indian Succession Act, 1925 and the application under Section
    192 for the appointment of the Curator before the District Court at
    Jaipur. Though the details of these applications are not available
    in the materials placed before this Court, the same have been
    referred to in the letter of the SDO dated 15.04.1991.
  8. Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987:- Parmeshwar Prasad filed
    Civil Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987 challenging initiation of
    proceedings under the Escheats Act and the
    communications/orders dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and
    03.08.1987 by the Dy. Secretary, Revenue, Govt. of Rajasthan,
    District Collector, Jhunjhunu and Tehsildar, Khetri respectively.
    On 19.11.2001, the High Court of Rajasthan adjourned the
    proceedings in the said writ petition sine-die awaiting the decision
    8
    of the Delhi High Court in Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987. The
    said writ petition has taken up by the High Court after fifteen
    years and was allowed by the impugned order.
  9. Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987:- Based on the Will
    allegedly executed by Sh. Raja Sardar Singh on 30.10.1985,
    Parmeshwar Prasad and the Trustees of Khetri Trust have filed
    the Testamentary Case seeking for probate of the Will read with
    codicil dated 07.11.1985. The agnates of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh
    raised objections for grant of probate. During the course of the
    proceedings, the Delhi High Court was informed that the
    provisions of Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act have already
    been invoked and that the State has taken possession of some of
    the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh. By an elaborate
    judgment dated 03.07.2012, the Delhi High Court dismissed the
    Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987 and held that it is for the State
    of Rajasthan to decide in accordance with law in pursuance of the
    proceedings taken under the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act,
  10. The relevant observations made by the Delhi High Court in
    the said Testamentary Case will be shortly referred to at the
    appropriate place. The executors of the will/trustees have
    preferred an appeal against the said judgment dated 03.07.2012
    9
    before the Delhi High Court and the said appeal is pending. But
    no stay was granted by the Division Bench in the said appeal.
  11. Application by Arjun Singh, father of Respondent No.8:
    Arjun Singh, father of Respondent No.8 claiming to be the
    agnate of the deceased, submitted his objections before the
    Tehsildar stating that the alleged Will dated 30.10.1985 is not
    legally valid and that the said Will has been executed due to the
    influence of Lady Olga Manning, a foreigner, who was close to
    Sh. Raja Sardar Singh.
  12. Order of the Collector dated 02.02.2016:- The Collector
    has passed a detailed order on 02.02.2016 rejecting the claims of
    the Khetri Trust based on Will and also the claims of the agnates
    namely Gajendra Singh, Surender Singh, Hemender Singh,
    Nagender Singh and Yogendra Singh. The District Collector has
    referred to the order of the Delhi High Court in Testamentary
    Case and various other proceedings and held that Sh. Raja
    Sardar Singh died intestate and issueless and therefore, Section
    29 of the Hindu Succession Act read with Sub-section 9(b) of
    Section 6 of the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956
    automatically comes into play and all properties left behind by Sh.
    Raja Sardar Singh shall vest in the State Government of
    10
    Rajasthan. The District Collector directed that copy of the order
    be forwarded to the Public Prosecutor to be presented before the
    District Judge, Jaipur for obtaining a vesting order/further course
    of legal action as mandated under the Act.
  13. Appeal before the Board of Revenue:- Against the order
    passed by the District Collector, in terms of Section 7 of the
    Escheats Act, Khetri Trust has filed appeal before the Board of
    Revenue and the Board of Revenue has stayed the order of the
    District Collector vide order dated 12.04.2016 and the said appeal
    is pending.
  14. Impugned Order:- It is in this background, the High Court
    has taken up the Civil Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987 which was
    pending for about thirty years in which the trustees have
    challenged the communications/orders dated 03.07.1987,
    22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987. Though subsequent to those three
    communications/orders, various orders have come to be passed
    by the High Court, by the District Collector and the appeals
    pending before the High Court and the Board of Revenue, the
    High Court proceeded to quash those communications/orders
    dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987 passed by the Dy.
    Secretary, Revenue, Govt. of Rajasthan, District Collector,
    11
    Jhunjhunu and Tehsildar, Khetri respectively by holding that the
    provisions of the Escheats Act have not been complied with and
    that the action by the State in taking over the possession of the
    properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh is arbitrary and
    unsustainable.
  15. On behalf of the appellant-State of Rajasthan, learned
    Additional Solicitor General Mr. P.S. Narsimha has submitted that
    due to the absence of any rightful owner, State of Rajasthan has
    rightly initiated the proceedings under the Rajasthan Escheats
    Regulation Act, 1956. It was submitted that the High Court has
    not appreciated the purport of Sections 4 and 6 of the Escheats
    Act which vests the power with the concerned authorities to
    initiate proceedings under the Act and to take possession of the
    escheat properties and the High Court erred by ignoring the fact
    that the communications/orders dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987
    and 03.08.1987 were in terms of the provisions of the Act. The
    learned Additional Solicitor General further submitted that the
    Trustees having filed the appeal against the dismissal of the
    Testamentary Case and the agnates having filed the appeal
    before the Board of Revenue challenging the order of the
    Collector, the High Court should have directed the parties to await
    12
    till disposal of the appeal by the Delhi High Court and the appeal
    by the Board of Revenue. The learned Senior counsel further
    submitted that by the order dated 19.11.2001, the High Court
    having adjourned the Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987 sine-die
    awaiting the decision of the Delhi High Court, ought to have
    awaited the decision of the Delhi High Court in the appeal
    preferred against the judgment in the Testamentary Case. It was
    contended that after the three communication/orders which were
    under challenge in Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987, orders came to
    be passed by the courts, competent authorities and while so, the
    High Court erred in ignoring the subsequent judgments/orders
    and the impugned order is not sustainable.
  16. Per contra, learned Senior counsel for the respondents
    Dr. A. M. Singhvi and Mr. Paras Kuhad submitted that there were
    agnates and cognates of the deceased of which the State was
    well aware and therefore, the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh
    cannot be said to be lawaris-abandoned property. Learned Senior
    counsel submitted that for escheating the properties, there should
    be total absence of any claimant for a reasonable period of seven
    years and that the character of the property as an abandoned
    property should be conclusively established. By placing reliance
    13
    upon Bombay Dyeing and Manufacturing Co., Ltd. v. State of
    Bombay and Others AIR 1958 SC 328, it was contended that
    power under Article 296 of the Constitution can be exercised only
    as long as there is no claimant and the property assumes the
    character of an abandoned property and that the case in hand
    cannot be said to be one of absolute failure of heirs. It was
    submitted that the onus to establish that the property is bona
    vacantia is upon the Government and the burden of proof is very
    high. Reliance was placed upon State of Bihar v. Radha Krishna
    Singh and Others (1983) 3 SCC 118, Kutchi Lal Rameshwar
    Ashram Trust Evam Anna Kshetra Trust Through Velji Devshi
    Patel v. Collector, Haridwar and Others (2017) 16 SCC 418. On
    behalf of the respondents, it was urged that initiation of the
    proceedings under the Escheats Act and taking over the
    possession thereof is erroneous as there are claims by the
    agnates and also by the Trustees. It was submitted that assuming
    that the Escheats Act was applicable, the possession was taken
    over from the Trust who was in “present and actual
    possession” which is in contravention of proviso to Section 4 of
    the Escheats Act. It was further submitted that taking over
    possession of the properties by the State from Kherti Trust is
    14
    illegal and that the same is in violation to proviso to Section 4(1)
    of the Escheats Act.
  17. I have carefully considered the submission and perused the
    impugned judgment and the judgment of the High Court of Delhi
    in Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987 and other materials on
    record. The following points arise for consideration:-
    (i) Whether the High Court was right in saying that the
    initiation of proceedings under Rajasthan Escheats
    Regulation Act, 1956 is not maintainable? Whether
    the learned Judge was right in saying that even
    assuming that the Act is applicable, taking over
    possession of properties is in violation of the
    provisions of the Act?
    (ii) Whether the High Court was right in quashing the
    communications/orders dated 03.07.1987,
    22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987 by ignoring the various
    subsequent orders passed by the Delhi High Court
    and by the competent authorities under the Escheats
    Act?
    (iii) When the appeal against the probate case is pending
    before the Division Bench of the High Court of Delhi
    and also the appeal against the order passed by the
    District Collector is pending before the Board of
    Revenue, whether the High Court was right in
    quashing the three communications/orders dated
    15
    03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987 in and by
    which the proceedings were initiated in terms of the
    Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956?
  18. Contention of the respondents is that it is not a case of
    bona vacantia (failure of legal heirs) and the very invocation of
    proceedings under the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956
    is not sustainable. Next limb of arguments is that even assuming
    that invocation of the Rajasthan Escheats Act is correct, the
    provisions of the Act have not been strictly followed by the State
    Government and the entire proceedings are vitiated. Let me
    consider the merits of the first contention that invocation of
    proceedings under the Act was not warranted as it was not a case
    of lawaris-abandoned property.
  19. Escheat is a bona vacantia and can be exercised only in
    case of abandoned property:- Article 296 is the constitutional
    provision enabling vesting of the property with the State
    Government if a person dies intestate and without any heir
    qualified to succeed to his or her property. Section 29 of the
    Hindu Succession Act, 1956 embodies the principle of escheat.
    Section 29 provides as follows:-
    16
    “29. Failure of heirs.—If an intestate has left no heir qualified to
    succeed to his or her property in accordance with the provisions of
    this Act, such property shall devolve on the Government; and the
    Government shall take the property subject to all the obligations
    and liabilities to which an heir would have been subject.”
    The doctrine of escheat postulates that where an individual dies
    intestate and does not leave behind an heir who is qualified to
    succeed to the property, the property devolves on the
    Government.
  20. Section 29 of the Hindu Succession Act comes into
    operation only on there being a failure of heirs. The word ‘failure’
    used in Section 29 makes it clear that there must be a total
    absence of any heir to the person dying intestate. The absence of
    any heir is a pre-condition for initiation of the proceedings for
    escheating of the property to the Government.
  21. It was held in State of Punjab v. Balwant Singh and Others
    1992 Supp. (3) SCC 108 that the State Government does not
    take the property “as a rival or preferential heir of the deceased
    but as the lord paramount of the whole soil of the country”. In
    Balwant Singh’s case, the Supreme Court held as under:-
    “11. The property is escheated to the Government when an
    intestate has left no heir qualified to succeed to his or her property.
    The property shall devolve on the Government and the Government
    17
    shall take the property subject to all the obligations and liabilities of
    the property. It is only in the event of the deceased leaving behind
    no heir to succeed, the State steps in to take the property.
  22. The State does not take the property as a rival or preferential
    heir of the deceased but as the lord paramount of the whole soil of
    the country. In Halsbury’s Laws of England, 4th ed. Vol. 17 para
    1439 it is stated as follows:
    “To whom land escheated.— Escheat in the case of
    death intestate before 1926 was to the mesne lord if he
    could be found but, as since 1290 sub-infeudation has
    been forbidden, in the great majority of cases there was
    no record of the mesne tenure, and the escheat was to
    the Crown as the lord paramount of the whole soil of the
    country.”
  23. Section 29, in our opinion, shall not operate in favour of the
    State if there is any other heir of the intestate. Indeed, Section 29
    itself indicates that there must be failure of heirs. ‘Failure’ of heirs
    means the total absence of heirs to the intestate………….”.
  24. Contention of the learned Senior counsel appearing for
    respondents No.5 to 8 is that Section 4 applies only to the
    property described in Section 2(4) which refers to a property
    “vesting in the State”. It was further submitted that the Rajasthan
    Escheats Act, 1956 applies only to properties vesting in the State
    qua ultima heres under Article 296 by escheat or as bona
    vacantia and thus, before initiation of any proceeding under the
    Act, the property must have acquired the character of an
    abandoned property.
    18
  25. Contention of the respondents No.5 to 8 is that the moment
    there is a claim, escheating does not arise. It was submitted that
    escheat is a bona vacantia and can be exercised only in case of
    abandoned property and “failure of heirs” and in the present
    case, there is no finding as to “failure of heirs”. It was contended
    that for claim of escheat by the Government, it should be
    established that the property is in the nature of
    lawaris/abandoned property. In support of the contention,
    reliance is placed upon Bombay Dyeing’s case, in which unpaid
    wages came to be accumulated for about three years. Three
    years’ arrears were transferred to Labour Welfare Fund and
    remained there unclaimed for three years. Observing that merely
    because there was no claim for the unpaid wages for three
    years, does not mean that it became abandoned property. In
    Bombay Dyeing, this Court held as under:-
    “27. It remains to deal with the contention of the respondents that
    the impugned legislation is, in substance, one in respect of
    abandoned property, and that, by its very nature, it cannot be held
    to violate the rights of any person either under Article 19(l)(f) or
    Article 31(2). That would be the correct position if the character of
    the legislation is what the respondents claim it to be, for it is only a
    person who has some interest in property that can complain that
    the impugned legislation invades that right whether it be under
    Article 19(l)(f) or Article 31(2), and if it is abandoned property, ex
    19
    hypothesis there is no one who has any interest in it. But can the
    impugned Act be held to be legislation with respect to abandoned
    property? To answer this question, it is necessary to examine the
    basic principles underlying such a legislation, and ascertain
    whether those are the principles on which the Act is framed. The
    expression “abandoned property” or to use the more familiar term
    “bona vacantia” comprises properties of two different kinds, those
    which come in by escheat and those over which no one has a
    claim. In Halsbury’s Laws of England, 3rd Edn., Vol. 7, p. 536, para
    1152, it is stated that “the term bona vacantia is applied to things in
    which no one can claim a property and includes the residuary
    estate of persons dying intestate”. There is, however, this
    distinction between the two classes of property that while the State
    becomes the owner of the properties of a person who dies intestate
    as his ultimate heir, it merely takes possession of property which is
    abandoned. At common law, abandoned personal property could
    not be the subject of escheat. It could only be appropriated by the
    Sovereign as bona vacantia. Vide Holdsworth’s History of English
    Law, 2nd Edn., Vol. 7, p. 495-96. In Connecticut Mutual Life
    Insurance Company v. Moore (333 US 541, 546) the principle
    behind the law was stated to be that “the state may, more properly,
    be custodian and beneficiary of abandoned property than any other
    person”. Consistently with the principle stated above, a law relating
    to abandoned property enacts firstly provisions for the State
    conserving and safeguarding for the benefit of the true owners
    property in respect of which no claim is made for a specified and
    reasonable period, and secondly, for those properties vesting in the
    State absolutely when no claim is made with reference thereto by
    the true owners within a time limited.”
  26. Contending that the initiation of the proceedings under the
    Rajasthan Escheats Act cannot stand unless the conditions for
    escheat are satisfied, reliance was placed upon in Peirce Leslie
    20
    and Co. Ltd. (In CA No.1174 of 1965) and Miss Violet
    Ouchferlong Wapshare and Others (In CA No.1935 of 1966) v.
    Miss Violet Ouchterlong Wapshare and Others (In CA No.1174 of
    1965) and Peirce Leslie and Co. Ltd. and Others (In CA No.1935
    of 1966) AIR 1969 SC 843.
  27. Observing that escheat is a doctrine which recognizes the
    State as a paramount sovereign in whom the property would vest
    upon a clear case of failure of heirs, in Kutchi Lal (2017) 16 SCC
    418, this Court held as under:-
    “20. …….Section 29 embodies the principle of escheat. The
    doctrine of escheat postulates that where an individual dies
    intestate and does not leave behind an heir who is qualified to
    succeed to the property, the property devolves on the Government.
    Though the property devolves on the Government in such an
    eventuality, yet the Government takes it subject to all its obligations
    and liabilities. The State in other words does not take the property
    (at SCC p. 113, para 12) “as a rival or preferential heir of the
    deceased but as the lord paramount of the whole soil of the
    country”, as held in State of Punjab v. Balwant Singh 1992 Supp (3)
    SCC 108. This principle from Halsbury’s Laws of England 4
    th. Ed.
    Vol.17, Para 1439, was adopted by this Court while explaining the
    ambit of Section 29. Section 29 comes into operation only on there
    being a failure of heirs. Failure means a total absence of any heir to
    the person dying intestate. When a question of escheat arises, the
    onus rests heavily on the person who asserts the absence of an
    heir qualified to succeed to the estate of the individual who has died
    intestate to establish the case. The law does not readily accept
    such a consequence. ….
    21
    …….
    “25. The principle that the law does not readily accept a claim to
    escheat and that the onus rests heavily on the person who asserts
    that an individual has died intestate, leaving no legal heir, qualified
    to succeed to the property, is founded on a sound rationale.
    Escheat is a doctrine which recognises the State as a paramount
    sovereign in whom property would vest only upon a clear and
    established case of a failure of heirs. This principle is based on the
    norm that in a society governed by the Rule of Law, the court will
    not presume that private titles are overridden in favour of the State,
    in the absence of a clear case being made out on the basis of a
    governing statutory provision. …….. The Collector is an officer of
    the State. He can exercise only such powers as the law specifically
    confers upon him to enter upon private disputes. In contrast, a civil
    court has the jurisdiction to adjudicate upon all matters involving
    civil disputes except where the jurisdiction of the court is taken
    away, either expressly or by necessary implication, by statute……”
    [Underlining added].
  28. In Radha Krishna (1983) 3 SCC 118, this Court held as
    under:-
    “272. It is well settled that when a claim of escheat is put forward
    by the Government the onus lies heavily on the appellant to prove
    the absence of any heir of the respondent anywhere in the world.
    Normally, the court frowns on the estate being taken by escheat
    unless the essential conditions for escheat are fully and completely
    satisfied. Further, before the plea of escheat can be entertained,
    there must be a public notice given by the Government so that if
    there is any claimant anywhere in the country or for that matter in
    the world, he may come forward to contest the claim of the State. In
    the instant case, the States of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh merely
    satisfied themselves by appearing to oppose the claims of the
    22
    plaintiffs-respondents. Even if they succeed in showing that the
    plaintiffs were not the nearest reversioners of the late Maharaja, it
    does not follow as a logical corollary that the failure of the plaintiffs’
    claim would lead to the irresistible inference that there is no other
    heir who could at any time come forward to claim the properties.”
  29. In the light of the above principles, let us consider whether
    the State of Rajasthan was right in invocation of the Escheats
    Act, 1956 to take the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh by
    escheat for want of heir or successor or as bona vacantia for
    want of a rightful owner. No doubt, the provisions of the
    Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956 will be applicable only
    when the person dies intestate and/or is not succeeded by any of
    the person under Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act or other
    succession laws.
  30. There are two claims to the properties of the deceased Sh.
    Raja Sardar Singh:-
    • By Khetri Trust said to have been created by virtue
    of Will executed by Sh. Raja Sardar Singh dated
    30.10.1985; and
    • By agnates of the deceased.
    Let me consider whether in the facts and circumstances of the
    case, the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh were bona
    23
    vacantia justifying the right of the Government to take the
    properties by escheat as a case of “failure of heirs”.
  31. Sh. Raja Sardar Singh died on 28.01.1987. The Khetri Trust
    was created on 31.01.1987. The Trust deed was executed on
    14.04.1987 in which eminent persons like Bhaskar
    Mitter-Chairman Exide Ltd., Narottam Sehgal-ICS Former Home
    Secretary to Government of India, Dr. Romila Thapar, the
    eminent historian and Vikram Lal-Chairman Eicher Ltd. have held
    the post of Trustees of the Khetri Trust. In Testamentary Case
    No.26 of 1987, the High Court of Delhi has pointed out that over
    a period of time, Trustees changed and as on 08.07.2003, Lord
    Northbrook being son of Lady Olga Manning was made the
    Executor Trustee of the Will, apart from Maharaj Gaj Singh of
    Jodhpur. The executor of the Will viz. Parmeshwar Prasad had
    filed Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987 in March, 1987 under
    Section 276 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 for grant of
    probate on the basis of the Will dated 30.10.1985 read with
    Codicil dated 07.11.1985. So far as the Khetri Trust is
    concerned, it has filed three interlocutory applications bearing
    Nos.5737-5739 of 2009. Trustees of Khetri Trust were impleaded
    24
    as party pursuant to the order passed in interlocutory application
    No.5737 of 2009 – application for impleadment of the Trustees.
  32. In Testamentary Case, the State of Rajasthan was also
    impleaded as a party because of bona vacantia i.e. for want of a
    rightful owner. The said interlocutory application bearing No.867
    of 1995 for impleadment filed by the State of Rajasthan was
    dismissed by the Single Judge against which an appeal was
    preferred by the State of Rajasthan before the Division Bench in
    F.A.O. (OS) No.166 of 1996. By order of the Division Bench
    dated 08.11.1996, the State of Rajasthan was ordered to be
    impleaded as a party. But the State of Rajasthan was only
    permitted to address the arguments on the basis of the existing
    records.
  33. Upon detailed consideration of oral and documentary
    evidence adduced by the parties, by a detailed order dated
    03.07.2012, the High Court of Delhi had dismissed the
    Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987 and held that “the
    petitioners-executors of the Will were not able to establish
    execution of the Will dated 30.10.1985 and the Codicil dated
    07.11.1985 in accordance with law and that the executors failed
    25
    to dislodge the suspicious circumstances surrounding the Will.”
    The relevant findings of the High Court are as under:-
    “101.1 That the petitioners have not been able to prove the Will
    Exhibit P-1 and the Codicil Exhibit P-3. The Will is not proved on
    account of the fact that the testimony of PW-1, P.N. Khanna and
    RW-8 is dramatically opposite. RW-8 has no reason to speak
    untruth, which will benefit him personally in any manner
    whatsoever.
    ………
    101.4 That the Will which is executed by the deceased/testator is
    incomplete and lacks material particulars. It talks about
    bequeathing immovable and movable properties to the Trust
    mentioned “herein below” and no details of the properties are
    mentioned in the Will itself nor are the copies of the income-tax
    return or the wealth-tax return attached as the Will says that details
    of the properties are given therein. The petitioners have
    independently failed to prove the said documents.”
    Against the said judgment dismissing Testamentary Case, the
    Trustees had preferred an appeal before the High Court of Delhi
    and the same is pending in which, no stay was granted.
  34. In the said Writ Petition being WP No.2713 of 1987, the
    Trust challenged three communications/orders dated 03.07.1987,
    22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987 basing its claim upon the Will and
    that they had filed the probate case before the High Court of
    Delhi which was dismissed. Once the decision of the High Court
    of Delhi in the probate case has gone against the Trust, the Trust
    26
    has no semblance of right, title and interest in the property,
    unless the Trust succeeds in the pending testamentary appeal,
    the Trust has no right to lay claim in the properties under
    escheat. The Trust having no right in the property, appears to
    have now taken up the cause of agnates, which the High Court,
    in my considered view, did not keep in view.
  35. In the Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987, the Trustees of Khetri
    Trust having challenged three communication/orders initiating the
    proceedings under the Escheats Act, 1956 represented to the
    High Court that they had filed a probate case before the High
    Court of Delhi and requested the matter be adjourned. Upon
    consideration of the representation made by the Trustees of
    Khetri Trust that a probate case is pending, the High Court of
    Rajasthan by its order dated 19.11.2001 adjourned the Writ
    Petition sine-die awaiting the decision of the Delhi High Court.
    The Trust thus, chose to seek an adjournment in the Writ Petition
    challenging the initiation of the proceedings under the Act till the
    final decision of the probate case. Once the decision in the
    probate case had gone against them, unless they succeed in the
    appeal, Khetri Trust has no semblance of right to lay a claim over
    the properties.
    27
  36. The agnate such as Gaj Singh Alsisar-respondent No.8 and
    other agnates viz. Surender Singh, Hemender Singh, Nagender
    Singh and Yogendra Singh have filed their objections resisting
    grant of probate of the Will dated 30.10.1985. Subsequently, all
    of them have withdrawn their objections. Regarding the conduct
    of the agnates withdrawing their objections, observing that the
    reasons for such withdrawal is inexplicable, in the concluding
    para, the Delhi High Court in its judgment dated 23.11.2012 held
    as under:-
    “……101.7 There were many objectors who had raised objection to
    the grant of probate/the letter of administration but actually each
    one of them withdrew. The reasons for withdrawal by them are
    inexplicable. No credible reason for the same has been given. This
    makes the Court to draw the inference that some forces were
    behind the scene which made them withdraw their objections
    leaving the field open for the petitioners but for the opposition of the
    State of Rajasthan.”
    As far as the objection of Gaj Singh Alsisar-respondent No.8, in
    the probate proceedings, he subsequently withdrew his
    claim/objection on 10.02.2009 suo moto.
  37. So far as other objectors are concerned, in probate case
    the High Court of Delhi observed as under:-
    “16. After filing of the probate petition, a number of objections
    were filed in response to the citation published in the “Statesman”
    28
    on 17.04.1987, which had a wide circulation including in the State
    of Rajasthan, where most of the properties were situated. These
    objections were filed by the persons, namely, Rajender Singh, who
    died after filing of the objection and was represented by his legal
    heirs, Hemender Singh, Nagender Singh and Shobha Kanwar. The
    other objections were filed by Arjun Singh, Surender Singh,
    Narender Singh, Laxman Singh, Dwarka Prasad Parekh and
    Raghuvir Singh. Out of these objectors, except Raghuvir Singh, the
    rest of the objectors withdrew their objections by filing applications
    before the court on 10.02.2009. So far as Raghuvir Singh is
    concerned, he was stated to be incarcerated in connection with
    some criminal case registered against him in Jaipur Central Jail,
    who initially persisted with his objections and made allegations that
    the Khetri Trust and other entities had fraudulently fabricated
    documents and sold various properties of Raja’s Estate, a number
    of times, however, before the start of arguments on the merits of
    the petition, Raghuvir Singh also withdrew his objections.”
    As observed by the District Collector, there were number of
    objectors to the grant of probate in favour of Khetri Trust and all of
    them have gradually withdrawn their objections and the conduct
    of the agnates raises suspicion on their bonafide. When the
    agnates/other persons claiming right in the estate of Sh. Raja
    Sardar Singh have withdrawn their objections, naturally the
    inference is that they have accepted the claim/right of Khetri
    Trust, which claims through the Will. An inference has to be
    drawn against the persons that they have no right of claim in the
    properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh. The so called agnates or
    29
    cognates cannot adopt double stand i.e. one claiming right in
    themselves and another allowing Khetri Trust to claim through the
    Will. It is also to be pointed out that the respondents No.8 and 9
    and respondent No.6-Late Rajender Singh have not produced
    any document showing their status as agnates nor initiated any
    proceeding for declaration of their status.
  38. Contention of the respondents is that the condition
    precedent for initiation of proceedings under the Escheats Act is
    “failure of heirs” and there is no finding by the authorities as to
    “failure of heirs” and therefore, the proceedings under the
    Escheats Act could not have been initiated. It was submitted that
    there was no enquiry conducted to satisfy the authorities as to
    “failure of heirs” to succeed to the properties and there was no
    finding as to “failure of heirs” and in the absence of finding as to
    “failure of heirs”, the proceedings initiated under the Escheats Act
    was wholly jurisdiction and hence, the High Court rightly quashed
    the orders dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987.
  39. There is no merit in the contention of the respondents that
    there was no enquiry and satisfaction of the authorities as to
    “failure of heirs” before initiating proceedings under the Escheats
    Act. As pointed out earlier, the Sub-Divisional Officer, Khetri has
    30
    sent a report dated 16.02.1987 to the District Collector, Jhunjhunu
    that Sh. Raja Sardar Singh expired in Mumbai on 28.01.1987
    without any legal heir and that he has executed one Will by virtue
    of which Khetri trust was constituted. The SDO’s report also
    states about the absence of brother or sister or any child or other
    legal heirs. The report of the SDO reads as under:-
    OFFICE OF THE SUB DIVISIONAL OFFICER KHETRI
    No.51/P.A./87 Dated 16.2.1987
    To,
    District Collector, Jhunjhunu
    Sir,
    That as per the information received vide letter dated
    11.2.1987 of Rajya Sabha, New Delhi, Raja Bahadur Shri Sardar
    Singh Khetri has expired in Mumbai on 28.1.1987 without any legal
    heir. He has executed only one will by virtue of this a Khetri Trust
    was constituted, the trust having four trustees and late Sardar
    Singh Ji has donated his movable and immoveable property to the
    Trust.
    Shri Sardar Singh has no brother or sister nor any child. He
    has divorced his wife. His father Amar Singh was adopted from
    Alsisar as his grandfather Ajit Singh had only one son Jai Singh,
    who died in minor age. Grandfather Shri Sardar Singh had two
    daughters one of them was married at Shahpura and other was
    married at Pratapgarh and both were expired, but there is a
    possibility of their children be alive.
    Sd/-Mang
    ilal
    31
  40. The State Government through Tehsildar, Jaipur issued a
    notice dated 27.02.1987 to general public at large stating that the
    estate of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh has been declared as escheat
    since he died without legal heirs. As seen from the
    communication of Naib Tehsildar dated 04.03.1987 and
    07.03.1987 addressed to Sh. Nirbhay Singh, an enquiry was
    conducted by Nair Tehsildar as to lawaris property of Sh. Raja
    Sardar Singh. The letter dated 03.07.1987 from the Deputy
    Secretary to District Collector, Jhunjhunu was in reference to the
    letter dated 15.06.1987 sent by the District Collector, Jhunjhunu
    to the Deputy Secretary by which the District Collector, Jhunjhunu
    had apprised about the factual position of the investigation
    conducted by him in compliance of the procedure laid down under
    Section 4 of the Escheats Act. There is no merit in the contention
    of the respondents that the initiation of the proceedings under the
    Escheats Act was done without following the procedure laid down
    by the law and without enquiry and the finding as to “failure of
    heirs”. The report of the SDO dated 16.02.1987 and the letter of
    the District Collector, Jhunjhunu dated 15.06.1987 addressed to
    the Government of Rajasthan shows that in compliance of the
    provisions of the Escheats Act, an enquiry was conducted and the
    32
    authorities satisfied themselves as to “failure of heirs” before
    initiating action under Escheats Act. The materials on record
    show that the proceedings under the provisions of Escheats Act
    has been initiated only after making proper enquiry about
    possible legal heirs of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh and on finding
    about the absence of legal heirs, the authorities satisfied
    themselves that the properties are bona vacantia. In my view, due
    procedure was followed by the concerned officials as per the
    Escheats Act following the provisions of Section 4 of the Escheats
    Act and only after ascertaining that there was “failure of heirs”,
    the inventories of the properties were prepared and possession
    was taken over on all the vacant properties and mangers were
    appointed for the requisite purposes.
  41. Deceased died way back in the year 1987. Till this date, the
    agnates have not instituted any suit or proceedings to establish
    their status nor obtained any declaration from the competent
    authorities. In the absence of any document declaring status of
    respondents No.4 to 8 as cognates/agnates of Sh. Raja Sardar
    Singh, State of Rajasthan cannot be faulted for initiating action
    under the Escheats Act, 1956 treating the properties of Sh. Raja
    Sardar Singh as lawaris for want of heir or successor or as bona
    33
    vacantia. Moreover, it is not the case of the respondents No.4 to 8
    that they represent all the agnates. As discussed earlier, no
    claimant came forward before the Tehsildar; only Nirbhay Singh
    who claimed as Manager of the Khetri Trust appeared before the
    Tehsildar. Considering the facts and circumstances of the case,
    initiation of proceedings under the Escheats Act cannot be said to
    be erroneous warranting interference.
  42. In Re: Compliance of the provisions of the Rajasthan
    Escheats Regulation Act, 1956:-
    The provisions of the Rajasthan Escheats Act, 1956
    regulate the procedure for initiation of proceedings and making of
    enquiries in the matter of lawaris properties vesting in the State of
    Rajasthan qua ultima heres under Article 296 of the Constitution
    of India by escheat or as bona vacantia. The Act applies to the
    properties vesting in the State. Section 2(4) of the Rajasthan
    Escheats Regulation Act, 1956 defines “property to which this
    Act applies” which reads as under:-
    Section 2 – Definitions – (4) “Property to which this Act
    applies” means any property vesting in the State qua ultima
    heres under Article 296 of the Constitution of India by escheats
    or as bona vacantia.
    34
    Section 3 of the 1956 Act shows that the general superintendence
    of the properties to which this Act applies vests in the Collector
    and the Board can also give directions to the Collector. These
    directions can be given for carrying out the provisions of the Act.
  43. The Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act is a complete Code
    in itself. The preamble sets out the scope and ambit of the
    statute. The Act being a comprehensive legislation sets out the
    entire scheme relating to the constitutional power under Article
    296 and provides for:- a) the making of enquiries; b) for custody
    and disposal; and c) properties vesting in the State under Article
    296 of the Constitution. The scope of the Act is to:- a) determine
    the rightful owner and to restore the property in his/her favour; b)
    secure and safeguard the property pending under such enquiry;
    c) adjudicate upon the contesting claims prima facie, at the same
    time enabling the properties to avail remedies of Civil courts; and
    finally d) pass orders of vesting after giving opportunities to
    everybody and after holding a detailed enquiry.
  44. When we consider the scheme of the Act, in particular,
    Section 4, it provides that when the Tehsildar receives information
    as to the existence within Tehsil of any property to which this Act
    35
    applies, whether or not in the possession of any person, the
    Tehsildar shall –
    a. ascertain whether or not there is any person entitled
    to such property;
    b. prepare an inventory thereof showing the prescribed
    particulars;
    c. take over possession of it in the prescribed manner;
    -andd. make a report of the Collector.
    As per the proviso to Section 4 of the Act, if the property is in the
    ‘present possession of any person’, such possession shall not be
    disturbed.
  45. As pointed out earlier, as against the order passed by the
    Collector (dated 02.02.2016), the Trust has preferred the appeal
    before the Board of Revenue and the same is pending, all the
    questions including the compliance of the provisions of the
    Escheat Act, 1956 are raised in the said appeal. We would not
    have ventured to go into the merits of the contention as to the
    compliance or otherwise of the provisions of the Escheats Act,
    1956; since the High Court has quashed the
    communications/orders dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and
    36
    03.08.1987 passed by the Deputy Secretary, Revenue, District
    Collector and the Tahsildar respectively holding that the
    provisions of the Escheats Act, 1956 has not been complied with,
    we are called upon to examine the merits of the contentions
    raised and examine whether there was proper compliance of the
    provisions of the Escheats Act, 1956 for initiation of the
    proceedings of the Act. If we do not examine the merits of the
    contention raised in this appeal, the findings of the High Court
    would stand and the appropriate forum will not be in a position to
    consider the matter on merits. I have to therefore necessarily
    proceed to examine the merits of the contention advanced by the
    parties as to the compliance or otherwise of the provisions of
    Escheats Act, 1956.
  46. As discussed infra, the provisions of Section 4 of the
    Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act have been substantially
    complied with. As pointed out earlier in para (4), a public notice
    was issued inviting the interested persons to present themselves
    before the Tehsildar and produce materials to prove their right.
    The Naib Tehsildar thereafter issued notice dated 07.03.1987 to
    Nirbhay Singh directing him to produce all documents with proof.
    From the materials, it is seen that the inquiry which was
    37
    conducted by the Tehsildar is also in compliance of Section 4 of
    the Act.
  47. As elaborated earlier in paras (4) to (6), a public notice was
    issued on 27.02.1987 by the Tehsildar, Jaipur calling upon
    persons who claim interest or right in the properties of Sh. Raja
    Sardar Singh to present himself before his office on 04.03.1987
    with entire documents or otherwise, it would be presumed that the
    Khetri House and other properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh are
    lawaris and the same shall be taken to the custody of the State.
    Further, it can be seen from the letter dated 04.03.1987 that the
    Naib Tehsildar, Jaipur was appointed as Inquiry Officer of all
    properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh situated at Jaipur. The
    Tehsildar issued a notice to Nirbhay Singh/Manager of Hotel
    Khetri House on 07.03.1987 calling upon him to personally
    appear and produce the entire records of the properties under his
    occupation. He was also informed that if he does not appear and
    produce the documents, it would be presumed that the properties
    are lawaris. After referring to the letter of the Collector dated
    03.07.1987, the Dy. Secretary to the State Government directed
    appellant No.3-Collector, Jhunjhunu to initiate proceedings under
    the Act as it was deemed that the deceased died intestate. The
    38
    letter dated 03.07.1987 from Dy. Secretary to District Collector,
    Jhunjhunu to initiate proceedings under the Act was in reference
    to the letter dated 15.06.1987 sent by the District Collector,
    Jhunjhunu to the Dy. Secretary by which the District Collector had
    apprised about the factual position of the investigation conducted
    by it in view of the procedure laid down under Section 4 of the
    Act. By letter dated 22.07.1987, the Tehsildar Khetri was directed
    to initiate proceedings under the Rajasthan Escheats Act with
    respect to properties situated in Khetri and also to collect details
    of properties situated outside the State of Rajasthan. By
    attachment order dated 03.08.1987, immovable properties i.e.
    agricultural lands and orchards in village Hada Fatehpura was
    taken over. By cumulative reading of the contents of above
    various proceedings, it is clear that in accordance with provisions
    of the Act, the concerned officials first made inquiry to ascertain
    whether there was any legal heir of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh;
    issued notices and then prepared the inventories and after the
    spot inspection, attached the properties and taken over the
    possession of the vacant properties and submitted report to the
    Collector. The provisions of the Escheats Act, 1956, in our view,
    has been substantially complied with.
    39
  48. The learned Senior counsel for the respondents submitted
    that the Khetri Trust was in possession of the property of Sh. Raja
    Sardar Singh and the possession was taken over from the Trust
    by the Tehsildar in purported proceedings under Section 4 of the
    1956 Act. It was further contended that even assuming that the
    Act was applicable, the possession was taken over from the Trust
    thereby contravening the proviso to Section 4(1) of the Act which
    provides that “if such property is in the present possession of
    any person, such possession shall not be disturbed”.
    Contending that the Trust was in possession of the property of
    Sh. Raja Sardar Singh and that the State Government through
    Tehsildar had taken over the possession, the learned Senior
    counsel for the respondents inter-alia made the following
    submissions:-
    • Immediately after the demise of Sh. Raja Sardar
    Singh on 28.01.1987, vide letter dated 14.02.1987,
    Parmeshwar Prasad, one of the Trustees addressed
    letter to SDO, Khetri informing about the death of
    Sh. Raja Sardar Singh and his bequest in favour of
    the Trust.
    • Nirbhay Singh vide letter dated 05.03.1987 informed
    the Naib Tehsildar, Jaipur that the possession of the
    properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh lied with the
    Trust and that Nirbhay Singh is the Manager of the
    40
    Trust and was in actual possession of movable and
    immovable properties in Khetri House where the
    Hotel was being run.
    • The Spot Possession Report dated 31.07.1987
    indicates that the Trust is in “present possession” of
    the Khetri House i.e. there were five seals of Khetri
    Trust on the ground floor; three seals of Khetri Trust
    on the upper floor; seals of Khetri Trust were found
    affixed on both the gates and supervisors have been
    deputed for supervision thereof. It also states that
    keys of the kothis are with the office of Khetri Trust
    in Delhi.
    The learned Senior counsel submitted that in view of the above
    facts, it is beyond any doubt that the properties of the deceased
    were “in present possession of the Trust and that such
    possession was not only disturbed but destroyed by the State
    taking over the possession of the properties”.
  49. Of course, as per the Spot Inspection Report dated
    31.07.1987, the property – Khetri House was found with locks
    with seal of Khetri Trust was affixed. As per the Spot Inspection
    Report nobody was found in physical possession of the property
    at the time of inspection. Upon consideration of these
    submissions inter-alia, the questions arising for determination are
    (i)Whether Khetri Trust was in “present possession” of the
    41
    property at the time of inspection and whether mere affixing of
    seal could lead to all inference that the Khetri Trust was in present
    possession?; (ii) Whether summoning of Nirbhay Singh was in his
    capacity as Manager of the Hotel Khetri or agent or representative
    of Khetri Trust?; and (iii) Whether the order passed by the District
    Collector under Section 6 is in due compliance of the provisions of
    the Act of Rajasthan Escheats Act, 1956?
  50. As against the order passed by the District Collector on
    02.02.2016, the appeal is preferred before the Board of Revenue
    and the same is pending while upholding the invocation of the
    provisions of Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956 in my
    considered view, the above contentions ought to be raised before
    the Board of Revenue and the Board of Revenue shall consider
    the same on its own merits.
  51. Challenging the initiation of proceedings under Escheats Act
    1956, the Trustees have filed Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987 way
    back in the year 1987 and the same was pending for about three
    decades. In 2001, the writ petitioners themselves sought for an
    adjournment on the ground of pendency of probate case before
    the Delhi High Court and the High Court also adjourned the writ
    petition sine-die. Thereafter, the writ petition remained pending for
    42
    quite some time. As discussed earlier, three
    communications/orders dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and
    03.08.1987 and subsequently, number of other orders came to be
    passed for taking possession of the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar
    Singh. The Delhi High Court dismissed the probate petition filed
    by the Khetri Trust by the judgment dated 03.07.2012 and the
    appeal filed by the Trust against the said judgment has been
    admitted by the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court and the
    same is pending. Under Section 6 of the Escheats Act, 1956, the
    Collector passed the order on 02.02.2016 dismissing the
    objections of the Trust on the basis of the order passed by the
    Delhi High Court in probate proceedings. The claim of agnates
    was also rejected by the District Collector on the ground that they
    had withdrawn their objections in the probate proceedings and
    are thus estopped from making any further claim.
  52. Challenging the order passed by the District Collector,
    appeal has been preferred before the Board of Revenue and the
    same is pending. The Board of Revenue stayed the order of the
    District Collector by the order dated 12.04.2016. It was thereafter,
    the High Court had taken up the Writ Petition No.2713 of 1987
    and passed the impugned order quashing the three
    43
    communication/orders. When the appeals were pending before
    the Delhi High Court and before the Board of Revenue involving
    disputed questions, the High Court, in my view, ought to have
    directed the parties to avail efficacious alternative remedy. The
    High Court, in my view, ignoring the subsequent events that the
    respondents-agnates have withdrawn their objections in the
    probate petition and dismissal of the probate petition and the
    appeals pending before the Delhi High Court and appeal pending
    before the Board of Revenue erred in quashing the three
    communications/orders and directing the State to hand over the
    possession of the properties to the respondents.
  53. Under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the High Court
    having regard to the facts of the case has a discretion to entertain
    or not to entertain a writ petition. But the High Court has imposed
    upon itself certain restrictions; one of which is an effective and
    efficacious remedy available. When efficacious alternative
    remedy is available, the High Court would not normally exercise
    the jurisdiction. However, alternative remedy will not be a bar at
    least in three instances:-
    (i) where writ petition is filed for enforcement of any of the
    fundamental rights;
    44
    (ii) where there is a violation of the fundamental right or
    principles of natural justice; and
    (iii) where the orders or proceedings are wholly without
    jurisdiction or the vires of an Act is challenged; [vide
    Harbanslal Sahnia and Another v. Indian Oil Corpn. Ltd.
    and Others (2003) 2 SCC 107].
  54. Notwithstanding the availability of alternative remedy,
    having regard to the facts of the case, the High Court has a
    discretion to entertain or not to entertain a writ petition. But in the
    present case, while considering correctness of the
    communications/orders issued way back in 1987, the High Court
    should have taken into consideration the subsequent events viz.,
    the judgment passed by the High Court of Delhi in Testamentary
    Case and the order passed by the District Collector under Section
    6 of the Act and the pendency of appeals before the High Court
    and Board of Revenue. Challenge to the initiation of the
    proceedings under the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956
    is already a subject matter of appeal before the Board of
    Revenue. Based on the Will, whether the Trust has a right to
    claim the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh is also a subject
    matter of appeal before the Delhi High Court. While so, exercising
    jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the High
    45
    Court ought not to have gone into the correctness of three notices
    issued on 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987 which
    themselves culminated into various final orders. The impugned
    order takes away the very foundation of the order passed by the
    District Collector which is subject matter of the appeal pending
    before the Board of Revenue. There are serious disputed
    questions of facts especially whether there was contravention of
    Proviso to Section 4 and in such view of the matter, the High
    Court ought not to have gone into the correctness of three
    communications/orders dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and
    03.08.1987. The High Court, in my considered view, ought to
    have directed the parties to work out the remedy before the
    competent court/authority.
  55. I summarise my conclusion as under:-
    (i) Since the Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987 then
    pending before the High Court of Delhi for grant of
    probate of the Will, has been dismissed and the
    testamentary appeal is pending before the High Court,
    there is no rightful owner as per the Will.
    (ii) Having withdrawn their objections in the probate
    proceedings, respondent Nos.5 to 9 are estopped from
    making any claim in the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar
    Singh till they establish their right in a court of law.
    46
    (iii) The provisions of the Escheats Act, 1956 was initiated
    only after enquiring about the legal heirs of Sh. Raja
    Sardar Singh and before initiation of proceedings under
    the Escheats Act, the authorities satisfied itself as to
    “failure of heirs” of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh and that the
    properties are bona vacantia.
    (iv) The persons claiming as agnates have not established
    their status in a court of law recognising them as rightful
    owners.
    (v) There was issuance of public notice and also to private
    individuals, before the State of Rajasthan took over the
    estate of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh by escheat. The
    provisions of the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act,
    1956 have been substantially complied with.
    (vi) The State of Rajasthan was right in treating the property
    as ‘bona vacantia’ and right in initiating the
    proceedings under the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation
    Act, 1956.
    (vii) Challenge to the initiation of the proceedings under the
    Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956 is already a
    subject matter of appeal before the Board of Revenue.
    Based on the Will, whether the Trust has a right to claim
    the properties of Sh. Raja Sardar Singh is also a subject
    matter of appeal before the Delhi High Court. While so,
    exercising jurisdiction under Article 226 of the
    Constitution of India, the High Court ought not to have
    gone into the correctness of three notices issued on
    47
    03.07.1987, 22.07.1987 and 03.08.1987 which
    themselves culminated into various final orders.
    (viii) There are serious disputed questions of facts especially
    whether there was contravention of Proviso to Section 4
    and in such view of the matter, the High Court ought not
    to have gone into the correctness of three
    communications/orders dated 03.07.1987, 22.07.1987
    and 03.08.1987.
  56. In the result, the impugned order of the High Court in Writ
    Petition No.2713 of 1987 is set aside and this appeal is allowed
    with the following directions and observations:-
    (i) The questions whether the Trust was in present
    possession of the Khetri House and other properties
    and that it ought not to have been disturbed in terms of
    proviso to Section 4 of the Act, have to be examined and
    determined by the Board of Revenue before whom the
    appeal against the order of the District Collector is
    pending;
    (ii) The question whether there is contravention of proviso
    to Section 4 of the Act, has to be determined by the
    Board of Revenue in the appeal pending before the
    Board of Revenue. The further question whether there
    was due compliance of Section 6 of the Act is also to be
    examined by the Board of Revenue?
    48
    Whether Khetri Trust has a right to claim the properties of
    Sh. Raja Sardar Singh based on the Will dated 30.10.1985, is a
    subject matter of appeal before the Delhi High Court. It is made
    clear that this judgment and also the conclusion of the Board of
    Revenue will, however, be subject to the decision of the Delhi
    High Court in Testamentary Appeal pending before the Delhi High
    Court. Parties shall bear their respective cost.
    .…………………………J.
    [R. BANUMATHI]
    New Delhi;
    August 28, 2019.
    49
    REPORTABLE
    THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
    CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
    CIVILAPPEAL NO. 6677 OF 2019
    (ARISING OUT OF SLP (C) NO. 36771 OF 2016)
    State of Rajasthan and Ors. … Appellants
    VERSUS
    Lord Northbook and Ors. …Respondents
    J U D G M E N T
    Indira Banerjee, J.
    I have gone through the Judgment of my esteemed sister, but I
    have not been able to persuade myself to agree that this appeal be
    allowed.
  57. This appeal is against a Judgment and Order dated 17.11.2006
    passed by the Jaipur Bench of the High Court of Judicature of
    Rajasthan, allowing a writ petition being Civil Writ Petition No.2713 of
    1987 filed by the respondents, who claim to be the trustees under a
    Will executed by Late Raja Bahadur Sardar Singh of Khetri, (hereinafter
    referred to as ‘Raja Bahadur’) and directing that the properties left
    1
    behind by Raja Bahadur be made over to the writ petitioners.
  58. The facts giving rise to the writ petition have been narrated in
    the judgment of my esteemed sister. Raja Bahadur, a childless
    widower died on 28.1.1987 leaving inter alia the following properties:-
    “S.No. Details of the property District Name of the
    village &
    township
    1 Khetri House, 5 Sardar Patel
    Road
    Delhi New Delhi
    2 Hotel Khetri House Jaipur Jaipur city
    3 Kothi Sukh Mahal Jhunjhunu Khetri
    4 Kothi Jai Niwas Jhunjhunu Khetri
    5 Kothi Amar Hall Jhunjhunu Khetri
    6 Nizamat Tehsil Building Jhunjhunu Khetri
    7 Ajit Niwas Bagh Farm Jhunjhunu Khetri
    8 Record Room Jhunjhunu Khetri
    9 Haveli Prohitji Wali Jhunjhunu Khetri
    10 Dera Brijlalji Wali Jhunjhunu Khetri
    11 Farrash Khana Jhunjhunu Khetri
    12 Chabutra inside Town Jhunjhunu Khetri
    13 Tin shed Mela Gugaji Jhunjhunu Mehara Jatuwas
    14 Sabka Patwar Ghar Jhunjhunu Papurna”
  59. On 30.10.1985, that is about one year and three months before
    his death, Raja Bahadur had executed a Will, bequeathing his
    properties to a Trust to be known as Khetri Trust, of which persons
    named in the Will were to be Trustees. On 31.1.1987, that is about
    three days after the death of Raja Bahadur, the Khetri Trust was
    created.
  60. On 14.2.1987, Mr. Parmeshwar Prasad, the original writ
    petitioner and one of the trustees named in the Will informed the
    Competent Authority, being the Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), khetri
    2
    that Raja Bahadur had expired on 28.1.1987. An attested copy of the
    Will executed by Raja Bahadur was forwarded to the SDO.
  61. By a letter dated 16.2.1987, the SDO Khetri informed the
    District Collector, Jhunjhunu of the death of Raja Bahadur and the Will
    said to have been executed by him. In the aforesaid letter the SDO
    indicated the possibility of existence of cognates of the deceased.
  62. It is the case of the appellants that, on 24.2.1987, one Dwarka
    Prasad Parik filed an application before the Tehsildar, stating that Raja
    Bahadur had died without heirs, leaving several valuable properties,
    and praying that the properties of Raja Bahadur be declared as
    properties of the State.
  63. On 27.2.1987, the Tehsildar, Jaipur published a Public Notice,
    calling upon persons interested in the properties of Late Raja Bahadur
    to appear before him. On 4.3.1987, the Tehsildar issued notice to
    Nirbhay Singh of his appointment as Inquiry Officer to enquire about
    the movable and immovable properties of Late Raja Bahadur Sardar
    Singh and directed the said Nirbhay Singh to produce all documents
    before him with proof on 12.3.1987, failing which it would be assumed
    that all the properties in possession of Nirbhay Singh were unclaimed.
  64. In the meanwhile, on 10.3.1987 the trustees filed a petition
    being Probate Petition No.26 of 1987 before the Delhi High Court for
    probate of the Will said to have been executed by Late Raja Bahadur.
    3
  65. One Arjun Singh, father of the respondent No.8, claiming to be
    an agnate of the deceased, and others filed objections opposing the
    grant of probate of the Will executed by Raja Bahadur.
  66. In the meanwhile, by a letter dated 12.3.1987, Nirbhay Singh
    responded to the said notice dated 4.3.1987, reiterating that pursuant
    to the Will executed by Raja Bahadur, the trustees of Khetri Trust were
    in real and lawful possession of the entire properties of Late Raja
    Bahadur Singh, and that they had initiated proceedings for probate
    being Testamentary Case No.26 of 1987 in the Delhi High Court.
  67. By a communication dated 3.7.1987 addressed to District
    Collector, Jhunjhunu the Deputy Secretary to the Government of
    Rajasthan informed the District Collector that Raja Bahadur was to be
    deemed to have died intestate and the Hindu Succession Act would be
    applicable to the properties left by him.
  68. By an Order No.2585/Nyaya/07 dated 22.7.1987, the Collector,
    Jhunjhunu directed the Tehsildar, Khetri to initiate proceedings under
    the Rajasthan Escheats Regulation Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred to as
    “The Escheats Act”) in respect of the properties left by Late Raja
    Bahadur.
  69. On 31.7.1987, the Tehsildar took over possession of the
    properties of Raja Bahadur and prepared a Spot Possession Report. On
    3.8.1987, possession was taken of the properties specified in a
    4
    compliance report dated 3.8.1987 submitted by the Tehsildar to the
    Collector. On 29.9.1987, the Tehsildar, Jaipur took possession of
    Khetri House Hotel from Nirbhay Singh.
  70. The respondents and/or their predecessor-in-interest filed the
    abovementioned writ petition challenging the initiation of proceedings
    under the Escheats Act and the consequential action of taking over
    possession of the properties of Raja Bahadur under the provisions of
    the said Act, which has been allowed by the judgment and order
    impugned in this appeal, and in my view, rightly.
  71. The Escheats Act as per the preamble of the said Act, is an Act
    to regulate the making of enquiries in the matter of properties vesting
    in the State of Rajasthan qua ultima heres under Article 296 of the
    Constitution of India or escheats or as bona vacantia and provides for
    custody and disposal thereof.
  72. A perusal of the Preamble makes it amply clear that the
    Escheats Act applies only to properties vesting in the State qua ultima
    heres under Article 296 of the Constitution of India as bona vacantia.
  73. The vesting of property in the State as bona vacantia under
    Section 296 for failure of heirs, is sine qua non for the applicability of
    the Escheats Act and statutorily prescribed jurisdictional requirement
    for Section 4 read with Section 2(4) of the said Act.
    5
  74. Section 2(4) of the Escheats Act defines “property to which this
    Act applies” to mean any property vesting in the State qua ultima heres
    under Article 296 of the Constitution of India by escheats or as bona
    vacantia.
  75. As rightly argued by Dr. Singhvi, appearing on behalf of the
    respondents, Section 2(4) refers to property vesting in the State and not
    to property which might vest in the State at a future point of time.
  76. Section 4(1) of the Escheats Act provides:
  77. Report by Tehsildar.:-(1) Upon receipt of information as to
    the existence within Tehsil of any property to which this Act
    applies, whether or not in the possession of any person, the
    Tehsildar shall-
    (a) Ascertain whether or not there is any person entitled
    to such property.
    (b) Prepare an inventory thereof showing the
    prescribed particular.
    (c) Take over possession of it in the prescribed manner,
    and
    (d) Make a report to the collector:
    Provided that if such property is in the present possession
    of any person, such possession shall not be disturbed.
    In my considered opinion, initiation of proceedings under the Escheats
    Act is subject to determination, at least prima facie, of the jurisdictional
    fact that the properties in question had acquired the character of
    “abandoned property”.
  78. The expression “escheat” or “bona vacantia” has not been
    defined in the Escheats Act. However, the Escheats Act having been
    6
    enacted in terms of Article 296 of the Constitution, the expressions are
    to be understood in the sense in which they have been used in Article
    296 of the Constitution, set out hereinbelow for convenience:-
    “296. Property accruing by escheat or lapse or as bona
    vacantia Subject as hereinafter provided any property in the
    territory of India which, if this Constitution had not come into
    operation, would have accrued to His Majesty or, as the case
    may be, to the Ruler of an Indian State by escheat or lapse,
    or as bona vacantia for want of a rightful owner, shall, if it is
    property situate in a State, vest in such State, and shall, in
    any other case, vest in the Union: Provided that any property
    which at the date when it would have so accrued to His
    Majesty or to the Ruler of an Indian State was in the
    possession or under the control of the Government of India or
    the Government of a State shall, according as the purposes
    for which it was then used or held were purposes of the
    Union or a State, vest in the Union or in that State
    Explanation In the article, the expressions Ruler and Indian
    State have the same meanings as in Article 363”
  79. Article 296 does not leave any discretion for determination of
    what might constitute escheat or bona vacantia. Article 296 makes it
    clear that the principles applicable in this regard, prior to
    commencement of the Constitution of India, would continue.
  80. Law relating to bona vacantia provides for conservation of
    abandoned properties. The nature of the property to which the
    Escheats Act applies must necessarily be abandoned property in the
    sense that there should be no claimants to the property, as argued by
    Dr. Singhvi.
  81. The question is, what exactly is “abandoned Property” or what
    property is “bona vacantia”. In Bombay Dyeing Manufacturing Co.
    7
    Ltd. vs. State of Bombay1
    , a Constitution Bench of this Court while
    deciding the challenge to the constitutional validity of the Bombay
    Labour Welfare Fund Act (40 of 1953), observed and held that the
    expression “abandoned property”, or to use the more familiar term
    “bona vacantia”, comprises properties of two different kinds, those
    which come in by escheat and those over which no one has a claim.
    The relevant paragraph of the judgment is extracted in the judgment of
    my esteemed sister.
  82. Property is subject to the right of escheat, where upon intestacy,
    there is no heir. Escheat was a right, whereby land of which there was
    no longer any tenant, returned by reason of tenure, to the lord by
    whom, or by whose predecessors in title, the tenure was created.
  83. In A-G of Ontario v Mercer2
    , Lord Selborne LC held “Escheat is
    a term of art and derived from the French word escheat that is cadere
    excidere or accidere and signifyeth property when by accident the lands
    fall to the lord of whom they are holden”. Escheat was an incident of
    feudal tenure and was based on the want of tenant to perform the
    feudal services.
  84. As per Paragraph 1437 of the fourth edition of Halsbury’s Laws
    of England, (Vol 17) escheat propter defectum tenentis occurred in the
    case of intestate death, where the last owner of the land died intestate,
    1 AIR 1958 SC 328
    2 A-G of Ontario v Mercer (1883) 8 App Cas 767 at 772
    8
    without any heir. In this event, a person became possessed of lands as
    purchaser, and died intestate without issue; the Lord or the Crown, as
    the case might be, re-entered in right of his or its former ownership, the
    estate which was granted, having come to an end.
  85. As very rightly observed and held by my esteemed sister, the
    doctrine of escheats postulates that where an individual dies intestate
    and does not leave behind any heir, who is qualified to succeed to the
    property, the property devolves on the Government.
  86. An abandoned property is a property for which no claim has
    been made for a substantially long period. The length of the period for
    which no claim is made, should be such as to raise the presumption
    that the property is abandoned.
  87. In Bombay Dyeing Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (supra), this Court
    found that initiation of escheat proceedings on the ground of absence of
    claim for a period of three years was unconstitutional.
  88. Dr. Singhvi submitted, and in my view, rightly, that if during an
    enquiry to ascertain whether property was abandoned or not, any claim
    was made, the proceedings had to be dropped.
  89. If no claims are made or if the State arrives at the opinion that
    all claims to the property are mala fide, only then may it apply to the
    Court for final determination as to the nature of the property, and
    9
    thereafter initiate escheat proceedings.
  90. In the proceedings before the Court, the Court would
    necessarily have to arrive at a finding that the property had been
    abandoned and that there were no heirs who could come forward to
    claim the properties. To put it differently, there would have to be total
    and absolute failure of heirs.
  91. As held by this Court in State of Punjab v. Balwant Singh &
    others (supra), quoted by my esteemed sister, the State Government
    does not take the property as a rival or preferential heir of the
    deceased, but as the lord paramount, when there is no heir qualified to
    succeed.
  92. The proposition that escheat is a doctrine that recognises State
    as a paramount sovereign, in a clear case of failure of heirs, and that
    when a claim of escheat is put forward by the Government, the onus
    lies heavily on the Government to prove the absence of any heir
    anywhere in the world, finds support from the judgments of this Court
    in Kutchi Lal Rameshwar Ashram Trust Evam Anna Kshetra Trust
    vs. Collector, Haridwar & Ors.3
    and State of Bihar vs. Radha
    Krishna Singh 7 Ors.4
    referred to by my esteemed sister.
  93. As noted by my esteemed sister, the Single Bench of Delhi High
    Court had dismissed Testamentary Case No. 26 of 1987 on 3.7.2012
    3 (2017) 16 SCC 418
    4 (1983) 3 SCC 118
    10
    holding that the executors of the will had not been able to prove the
    Will dated 30.10.1985 and the codicil dated 7.11.1985.
  94. The judgment and order dated 3.7.2012 dismissing
    Testamentary Case no. 26/1987 is of no consequence. It is well settled
    that if a will fails, the property has to be treated as intestate, which
    devolves upon the natural heirs in accordance with the applicable laws
    of succession. As observed by my esteemed sister, the dismissal of the
    probate case might mean that the Trust cannot lay claim to the
    properties. However, that does not make the properties escheated
    properties.
  95. If, upon enquiry under Section 6 of the Escheats Act, the
    Collector finds that the property in question is not of the nature to
    which the Escheats Act applies, he is obliged to order the proceedings
    to be closed and the property to be allowed to remain with the person in
    whose possession it might then be, or if possession thereof has been
    taken under Section 4(c) or Section 6, the Collector is obliged to restore
    the property to the person from whom possession was so taken, as
    mandated by Section 6 (9)a) of the Escheats Act.
  96. It is true that the respondent trustees filed the writ petition
    basing its claim on the Will. The locus standi of the writ petitioners
    was never in issue. By entertaining the writ petition the High Court, in
    effect, accepted that the respondent trustees of the Trust had locus
    11
    standi to file the writ petition, and rightly so.
  97. The writ petition filed by the Trustees having been entertained
    and kept pending, the High Court would not have been justified in
    dismissing it on the ground that the Trust had no right to lay claim in
    the properties in question, in view of dismissal of the probate case,
    more so, when the appeal filed by the Trustees is still pending. The
    High Court was right in not dismissing the writ petition.
  98. The fact that the High Court had earlier, on the prayer of the
    Trustees, adjourned the writ petition sine die, to await the decision in
    the Probate application, did not debar the High Court from exercising
    its writ jurisdiction after disposal of the Probate case. At the cost of
    repetition, it is reiterated that even though the Probate case has gone
    against the trustees, the appeal was and is still pending before the
    Division Bench, as noted by my esteemed sister.
  99. It is true that the Khetri Trust can claim a right over the
    property in terms of the will executed by Raja Bahadur, only if it
    succeeds in the appeal pending in Delhi High Court. This in my view,
    did not denude the trustees of the locus standi to pursue the writ
    petition challenging the initiation of proceedings under the Escheats
    Act.
  100. As held by this Court in State of Bihar vs. Radha Krishna
    (supra), the onus to establish that a property is bona vacantia is on the
    12
    Government. The burden of proof is heavy. This proposition also finds
    support from Kutchi Lal Rameshwar Ashram Trust (supra).
  101. The threshold requirements laid down by this Court upon
    interpretation of Article 296 are the conditions precedent for initiation
    of proceedings under the Escheats Act. The authorities would have to
    be satisfied that the properties had been abandoned and that there
    were no known claimants of the said properties The purpose of the
    legislation is to conserve abandoned property and safeguard the
    property for the benefit of the rightful claimant who may come later.
  102. Mr. Paras Kuhad, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of
    some of the respondents adopted the arguments advanced by Dr.
    Singhvi and further submitted, and rightly, that before the Collector
    can apply to the Court for vesting or custody of the property in terms of
    the Section 6(7) and 6(9) of the Escheats Act, the following tests should
    be satisfied.
    “(i) The case should not involve complicated questions of law as to
    title or status which has not previously been adjudicated by a Civil
    Court of competent jurisdiction.
    (ii) There should not be claimants to the property.
    (iii) The property should be of the nature to which the Escheats
    Act applies i.e., bona vacantia and/or in other words abandoned
    property.
    (iv) The last owner should have died intestate without leaving
    any known heirs. In other words there has to be a complete and
    13
    absolute failure of heirs and thus any possibility of claim being
    made to the property by any person.
    (v) A claim made pursuant to a proclamation issued under the
    Escheats Act should prima facie be not maintainable. If a claim is
    prima facie maintainable even though the claim may not have been
    established, no application for vesting or custody can be made.
    (vi) Even if no claim is filed, the Collector should be
    satisfied that there is no person entitled to claim the property. In
    other words, there should be no person entitled to claim the
    property irrespective of whether there was any claim to the
    property and irrespective of whether the claim, if any, could be
    established.
    (vii) The Collector is satisfied that it is a bona fide case of
    property vesting in the State as ultima heres under Section 296 of
    the Constitution of India by escheat or as bona vacantia. The
    vesting of the property in the State as ultima heirs by escheat or as
    bona vacantia must positively be established and not likely
    presumed.”
  103. Shri Raja Bahadur Singh being a Hindu by religion was
    governed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The relevant provisions
    of the Hindu Succession Act are as follows:-
    “8. General rules of succession in the case of males.―The
    property of a male Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to
    the provisions of this Chapter:―
    (a) firstly, upon the heirs, being the relatives specified in
    class I of the Schedule;
    (b) secondly, if there is no heir of class I, then upon the heirs,
    being the relatives specified in class II of the Schedule;
    14
    (c) thirdly, if there is no heir of any of the two classes, then upon
    the agnates of the deceased; and
    (d) lastly, if there is no agnate, then upon the cognates of the
    deceased.
  104. Order of succession among heirs in the Schedule.―Among
    the heirs specified in the Schedule, those in class I shall take
    simultaneously and to the exclusion of all other heirs; those in the
    first entry in class II shall be preferred to those in the second entry;
    those in the second entry shall be preferred to those in the third
    entry; and so on in succession.
  105. Distribution of property among heirs in class I of the
    Schedule.― The property of an intestate shall be divided among the
    heirs in class I of the Schedule in accordance with the following
    rules:―
    Rule1.― The intestate’s widow, or if there are more widows than
    one, all the widows together, shall take one share.
    Rule2.― The surviving sons and daughters and the mother of the
    intestate shall each take one share.
    Rule 3.― The heirs in the branch of each pre-deceased son or each
    pre-deceased daughter of the intestate shall take between them one
    share.
    Rule 4.― The distribution of the share referred to in Rule 3—
    (i) among the heirs in the branch of the pre-deceased son shall be so
    made that his widow (or widows together) and the surviving sons
    and daughters get equal portions; and the branch of his
    pre-deceased sons gets the same portion;
    (ii) among the heirs in the branch of the pre-deceased
    daughter shall be so made that the surviving sons and daughters
    get equal portions.
  106. Distribution of property among heirs in class II of the
    Schedule.―The property of an intestate shall be divided between
    the heirs specified in any one entry in class II of the Schedule so
    that they, share equally
  107. Order of succession among agnates and cognates.―The
    order of succession among agnates or cognates, as the case may
    be, shall be determined in accordance with the rules of preference
    laid down hereunder:―
    Rule 1.― Of two heirs, the one who has fewer or no degrees of
    15
    ascent is preferred.
    Rule2.― Where the number of degrees of ascent is the same or
    none, that heir is preferred who has fewer or no degrees of descent.
    Rule3.― Where neither heir is entitled to be preferred to the other
    under Rule 1or Rule 2 they take simultaneously.
    xxx xxx xxx
  108. Computation of degrees.―(1) For the purposes of determining
    the order of succession among agnates or cognates, relationship
    shall be reckoned from the intestate to the heir in terms of degrees
    of ascent or degrees of descent or both, as the case may be.
    (2) Degrees of ascent and degrees of descent shall be
    computed inclusive of the intestate.
    (3) Every generation constitutes a degree either ascending or
    descending.
    xxx xxx xxx
  109. Failure of heirs. – If an intestate has left no heir qualified to
    succeed to his or her property in accordance with the provisions of
    this Act, such property shall devolve on the government; and the
    government shall take the property subject to all the obligations and
    liabilities to which an heir would have been subject.
    xxx xxx xxx
  110. Testamentary succession.―1*** Any Hindu may dispose of by
    will or other testamentary disposition any property, which is
    capable of being so 2[disposed of by him or by her], in accordance
    with the provisions of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 (39 of
    1925),or any other law for the time being in force and applicable to
    Hindus.
    Explanation.―The interest of a male Hindu in a Mitakshara
    coparcenary property or the interest of a member of a tarwad,
    tavazhi, illom, kutumbaor kavaruin the property of the tarwad,
    tavazhi, illom, kutumbaor kavarushall, notwithstanding anything
    contained in this Act or in any other law for the time being in force,
    be deemed to be property capable of being disposed of by him or by
    her within the meaning of this.”
  111. The Expression “agnate” and “cognate” are defined in Section
    3(a) and 3(c) respectively of the Hindu Succession Act to mean:-
    16
    “3(a)“agnate” – one person is said to be an “agnate” of another if
    the two are related by blood or adoption wholly through males:
    3(b) …..
    3(c) “cognate” – one person is said to be a cognate of another if the
    two are related by blood or adoption but not wholly through
    males.”
  112. Under Section 29 of the Hindu Succession Act, the property of
    an interstate devolves on the Government, if the intestate has left no
    heir qualified to succeed to his or her property, in accordance with the
    provisions of the Hindu Succession Act. The Government is to take the
    property subject to all obligations and liabilities to which an heir would
    have been subject.
  113. It is not necessary for this Court to consider the correctness of
    the judgment and order of the Delhi High Court in the probate
    proceedings, since the appeal therefrom is pending. However, no
    adverse inference could have been drawn by reason of withdrawal of
    the objections of the agnates and/or cognates of Raja Bahadur.
  114. The inter se disputes, if any, between the agnates and/or
    cognates of Raja Bahadur and the legatees under his Will, are irrelevant
    for the purpose of escheat proceedings.
  115. The provisions of Escheats Act regulate the procedure for
    initiation of the proceedings and making of enquiries in respect of
    properties to which the Escheats Act applies, that is, ‘lawaris’
    17
    properties vesting in the State qua ultima heres under Article 296 of
    the Constitution of India by escheat or bona vacantia, as rightly
    concluded by my esteemed sister.
  116. The Escheats Act applies to properties vesting in the State. The
    Escheats Act is a complete Code which covers the power under Article
    296 and provides for making of enquiries; custody and disposal and for
    vesting of properties in the State. However, the condition precedent for
    exercise of jurisdiction under the Escheats Act is subjective satisfaction
    that the property vests by reason of intestacy and complete failure of
    heirs.
  117. The power under the Escheats Act can be exercised only after
    the Tehsildar ascertains whether or not there is any person entitled to
    the properties of the deceased. If the property is in possession of any
    person, such possession is not to be disturbed. In the instant case, it
    is the case of the respondents themselves that the properties of Raja
    Bahadur were in the possession of the Trust through the Manager,
    Nirbhay Singh.
  118. The mere issuance of public notice by the Tehsildar, calling
    upon persons claiming interest or right in the properties of Raja
    Bahadur to appear in his office with documents, failing which it would
    be presumed that the Khetri house and other properties of Raja
    Bahadur were lawaris, does not absolve the Tehsildar of his obligation
    18
    to enquire into whether there were any legal heirs.
  119. There were claimants who objected to the grant of probate. Even
    though these objectors might have withdrawn their objections to the
    grant of probate, whatever be the reason, they did not resile from their
    claim to be heirs of Raja Bahadur under the Hindu Succession Act.
  120. The withdrawal of an objection to grant of probate tantamounts
    to withdrawal of the grounds of objection to the Will and/or in other
    words, retracting the allegations of the Will being procured, forged,
    fabricated, fraudulent or created by exercise of undue influence.
  121. The caveators who objected to grant of probate to the Will might
    very well have been advised not to proceed in view of the weakness of
    their case, or may be for other reasons That would not make any
    difference to their status as agnates or cognates of the deceased
    testator.
  122. In fact, even the ultimate failure of the probate proceedings or
    in other words, dismissal of the appeal would not attract the provisions
    of the Escheats Act, unless there was a clear finding that Raja Bahadur
    left no agnates or cognates and there was complete failure of heirs.
    Once there were some heirs in the picture, it was not for the appellants
    to protect the properties of Raja Bahadur. It was for the rightful heirs
    to recover the properties from those in possession thereof.
    19
  123. The mere failure of an application for probate would not attract
    escheats. When a Will is not probated, the testamentary property is to
    be deemed to be intestate property and would devolve upon successor,
    if any, as per the general laws of succession. Unless there were
    complete failure of heirs, the Escheats Act would not be attracted.
  124. It may be useful to refer to paragraph 597 of Volume 39 of the
    fourth edition of Halsbury’s Laws of England extracted hereinbelow for
    convenience:-
    “597. Formerly, when a tenancy in fee simple came to an end
    for any reason, the land went back to the lord of whom the
    tenant, and he was said to take by escheat. The commonest
    instances were escheat for want of heirs (propter defectum
    sanguinis), which occurred when a tenant in fee simple died
    intestate without leaving an heir-at-law, and escheat on
    conviction of felony (propter delictum tenentis), but both these
    have been abolished. Escheat in other cases is still possible but
    rare. An example is where the land is disclaimed by the trustee
    in bankruptcy of the former owner, and another possible case is
    on the dissolution of a corporation not governed by the
    Companies Act 1948.”
  125. The condition precedent for initiation of proceedings under the
    Escheat Act is failure of heirs. In the absence of any finding of failure
    of heirs, proceedings could not have been initiated. Under Section 4, it
    is the duty of the Tehsildar to see that there is no one entitled to the
    property. The proviso clearly prohibits the taking over of property or
    disturbance of possession thereof, if the property is in the possession of
    any one.
  126. Apart from the fact that the proceedings could not be initiated
    20
    in the absence of satisfaction of complete failure of heirs to succeed to
    the properties, Section 6 (7) mandates that if any enquiry involves a
    complicated question of law as to title or status, which has not been
    previously adjudicated upon by a Civil Court of competent jurisdiction,
    and if there are two or more claimants in respect of the same property,
    the Collector may require any or all of the claimants to apply for a
    succession certificate in respect of such property or to institute a suit
    for declaration of title thereto, within such period not exceeding six
    months in the aggregate, as the Collector might fix.
  127. Furthermore, if the Collector finds that the property is not of the
    nature to which the Act applies, the Collector is obliged to close the
    proceedings and allow the property to remain with the person in whose
    possession it might be or if possession thereof has been taken under
    Section 4 or Section 6, to be restored to the person from whom
    possession was so taken.
  128. Significantly, in this case, the proceedings under the Escheats
    Act were initiated and the orders/communications impugned in the writ
    petition were issued, without any finding of complete failure of heirs. In
    the absence of formation of the opinion of failure of heirs, the
    proceedings initiated under the Escheats Act were wholly without
    jurisdiction.
  129. In Calcutta Discount Company vs. ITO, Companies District
    21
    I and Ors., reported in AIR 1961 SC 372, a Constitution Bench of this
    Court held that when exercise of jurisdiction depends upon formation of
    any particular opinion, then formation of that opinion is necessary
    before acquiring jurisdiction. In such a case, it is open to an aggrieved
    person to challenge formation of the opinion in a writ proceeding on
    such grounds as are available on this count.
  130. In Union of India vs. Hindalco Industries, reported in (2003)
    5 SCC 194, a show cause notice issued under the Central Excise Act on
    the ground of incorrect valuation without recording a satisfaction that
    the price was not the sale consideration or that the buyer was a related
    person, was held to be without jurisdiction as there was no valid
    foundation for ignoring the declared price.
  131. It is reiterated at the cost of repition that the condition
    precedent for exercise of jurisdiction is the existence of the jurisdictional
    fact of the properties in question being bona vacantia, in the absence of
    any heirs. When existence of jurisdiction by an authority, depends upon
    existence of a particular fact, the determination of such a fact is
    preliminary to the exercise of jurisdiction. The existence of the fact has
    to be decided at the threshold.
  132. Where the jurisdiction of an authority depends upon a
    preliminary finding of fact, the High Court is entitled, in an application
    under Article 226, to determine upon its own independent judgment,
    22
    whether or not that finding is correct, as held by this Court in State of
    Madhya Pradesh & Ors. vs. Sardar D.K. Jadav reported in AIR
    1968 SC 1186 and Ujjambai vs. State of U.P. reported in AIR 1962
    SC 1621.
  133. I am unable to persuade myself to agree with my esteemed
    sister that the issuance of notices informing those interested in the
    properties left by late Raja Bahadur, that if they did not appear and
    produce documents, it would be presumed that the properties were
    lawaris, satisfies the conditions precedent for initiation of proceedings
    under the Escheats Act.
  134. The District Collector clearly erred in rejecting the claims of
    agnates on the ground that they had withdrawn their objections in the
    probate proceedings. Withdrawal of objections to the probate
    proceedings does not estop the agnates and/or cognates from claiming
    the property upon failure of the probate application.
  135. As observed by my esteemed sister, under Article 226 of the
    Constitution of India, the High Court, having regard to the facts of the
    case, has a discretion to entertain or not to entertain a writ petition.
  136. The power of the High Court to issue prerogative writs is wide.
    The Constitution does not place any limitation on such power.
    However, the Courts have, through judicial pronouncements, evolved
    self imposed restrictions on the exercise of power by the writ Court.
    23
    When an efficacious alternative remedy is available, the High Court
    does not normally exercise jurisdiction. However, when a writ petition
    has been entertained and kept pending for years, it would not be
    appropriate to reject the writ petition only on the ground of existence of
    an alternative remedy.
  137. It would also be relevant to note that the remedy of appeal
    availed by the Trustees was against the order of the Collector passed in
    2016 almost two decades after the writ petition had been filed. The
    supervening circumstance of the order of the Collector and the appeal
    therefrom, would not in my view, justify the dismissal of the writ
    petition on the ground of existence of alternative remedy.
  138. As noted by my esteemed sister, the writ petition filed in 1987
    had been pending in the High Court for about three decades. Once the
    writ petition had been entertained and kept pending, it should not be
    rejected on the ground of existence of alternative remedy of appeal
    before the Board of Revenue.
  139. In deciding the question of maintainability of a writ petition in
    view of existence of alternative remedy, this Court cannot forget that
    the power to issue prerogative writs under Article 226 of the
    Constitution of India is plenary in nature. The High Court, having
    regard to the facts of the case, has discretion to entertain or not to
    entertain a writ petition. The existence or even invocation of alternative
    24
    remedy has nothing to do with the jurisdiction of the writ court. Even
    if a party has already availed of the alternative remedy by invoking the
    appellate jurisdiction, as also the jurisdiction under Article 226, the
    party could elect to prosecute proceedings under Article 226 for the
    same relief.
  140. There are certain well-recognised exceptions where the bar of
    alternative remedy does not apply. Where the authority has acted
    without jurisdiction, the High Court should not refuse to exercise its
    jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution on the ground of an
    alternative remedy, as held by this Court, inter alia, in Kuntesh Gupta
    vs. Management of Hindu Kanya Mahavidyalaya, Sitapur, U.P. &
    Ors. reported in (1987) 4 SCC 525. Complete lack of jurisdiction of an
    authority to take the impugned action, as in this case, is always a good
    ground to entertain a writ petition.
  141. Moreover, as held by this Court in Municipal Council, Khurai
    and Anr. vs. Kamal Kumar & Anr. reported in AIR 1965 SC 1321,
    M.G. Abrol, Addl. Collector of Customs, Bombay & Anr. vs.
    Shantilal Chhotelal & Co. reported in AIR 1966 SC 197 and in State
    of U.P and Others vs. Indian Hume Pipe Co. Ltd reported in (1977) 2
    SCC 724, there is no rule of law that the High Court should not
    entertain a writ petition when an alternative remedy is available to a
    party. It is always a matter of discretion with the Court and if the
    discretion has been exercised by the High Court not unreasonably or
    25
    perversely, it is settled practice of this Court not to interfere with the
    exercise of discretion by the High Court. The High Court in the present
    case has entertained the writ petition and decided the question of law
    arising in it and in my opinion rightly. In my view, we would not be
    justified in interfering in our jurisdiction under Article 136 of the
    Constitution to quash the order of the High Court, merely on the
    ground of existence of an alternative remedy. As held by this Court,
    inter alia, in Kanak vs. U.P. Avas Evam Vikas Parishad & Ors.
    reported in (2003) 7 SCC 693 (701), once a writ petition is entertained,
    and the matter is argued at length on merit, it would be too late in the
    day to contend that the writ petitioner should avail the alternative
    remedy.
  142. The High Court has, in my view, rightly allowed the writ
    petition. This appeal is, in my view, liable to be dismissed.
    ……………………………, J
    (INDIRA BANERJEE)
    AUGUST 28, 2019
    NEW DELHI
    26
    REPORTABLE
    IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
    CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
    CIVIL APPEAL NO.6677 OF 2019
    (@ SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 36771 OF 2016)
    STATE OF RAJASTHAN AND ORS. …APPELLANT(S)
    VERSUS
    LORD NOTHBOOK AND ORS. …RESPONDENT(S)
    O R D E R
    In view of difference of opinions and the distinguishing
    judgments (Hon’ble R. Banumathi, J. allowed the appeal and Hon’ble
    Indira Banerjee, J. dismissed the appeal), the matter be placed
    before Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India for referring the matter
    to the Larger Bench.
    ………………..J.
    [R. BANUMATHI]
    NEW DELHI ………………..J.
    28TH AUGUST, 2019 [INDIRA BANERJEE]