Decided on February 27,1982



M. Fatima Beebi, Judicial Member - (1.) THIS appeal is directed against the order of the Appellate Controller of Estate Duty, Ernakulam, dated 19-12-1977, in ED Appeal No. 6/1972-73/EKM, relating to the assessment on the death of Shri Rama Varma Pareekshit Thampuran, the Maharaja of the erstwhile State of Cochin, on 11-12-1964.
(2.) In pursuance of a notice under Section 55 of the Estate Duty Act, 1953 ("the Act"), the accountable person, Shri Rama Varma Kunjikidavu Thampuran, filed a statement before the Assistant Controller on 22-11-1971. A contention was raised that the estate of the Maharaja of Cochin is not assessable to estate duty in respect of the properties attached to the Maharaja and that the accountable person was, therefore, not liable to submit the account called for. It was further contended that the properties belonging to the Maharaja of Cochin, compendiously known as the Palliyara Muthalpidi Estate, did not pass under any of the provisions of the Estate Duty Act on the death of the Maharaja and that the Maharaja of Cochin was a corporation sole or, in the alternative, the holder of an office coming within the ambit of Section 7(4) of the Act. It was also contended that the Maharaja of Cochin lost his political and administrative powers as a result of the integration of the States in July, 1949 ; his personal rights, privilges and dignities were guaranteed by the Covenant and, therefore, the possession and enjoyment of the Palliyara Muthalpidi properties were the personal rights and privileges attached to the rulership of Cochin. Further, it was urged that the Ministry of States has also ruled that these properties will be considered as belonging to His Highness, the Maharaja of Cochin, and will devolve intact on his successors. The Assistant Controller did not accept these contentions. He equated the Maharaja to a sthani and relied on the decision of the Madras High Court in the case of the S.C. Sree Manavikraman Raja, Zamorin Raja of Kozhikode v. CED [1957] 32 ITR 1 for the proposition that a sthani is not a holder of an office nor a corporation sole, but the sthanam is merely a place of dignity or honour. The observation that the expression "corporation sole" in Section 7(4) would only apply to cases of those offices which have by statute been designated as corporation sole and endowed with perpetual succession, was relied on. The Assistant Controller held that the rights and privileges of the Maharaja did not constitute an office and that the Maharaja was neither a corporation sole nor the holder of an office.
(3.) THE Assistant Controller noticed that after the integration of States, the Maharaja lost his political and administrative powers ; he was not a holder of an office to which duties of a public character were attached and he can only be treated as the holder of a sthanam and the Palliyara Muthalpidi properties are the properties attached to the sthanam. THEse properties are considered as the private properties of the Maharaja and devolved on his successor. THE decision of the Supreme Court in CIT v. M.E.H. Mir Osman Alt Bahadur [1966] 59 ITR 666 was followed for concluding that the privileges granted to the Maharaja under Article 15 of the Covenant of Integration were only personal privileges which did not justify any claim to the immunity from taxation.;

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