Churachand Maharaja owned Manipur Rajbari now a Government property

Yumnam Bijaya Devi *

The origin of Manipur Rajbari, Redlands can be traced back in the year 1927 when Sir Churachand, the Maharaja of Manipur purchased 'Inglesby' complex at Rs 10,000 (Rs. Ten thousand) from one Jamatullah, son of Aulad Hussain, a prominent citizen of Shillong whose families are now staying opposite Presbyterian Church in Police Bazar. This beautiful complex was once owned by an Englishman called 'Englisby' and to the locals he was known as 'Inglesby'. (Sources learnt from Late L.Ibohal Singh, the then District and Session Judge, Manipur).

This complex is situated near famous, picturesque 'Wards Lake', now Gauhati High Court, Meghalaya branch and Meghalaya M.L.A Hostel. Subsequently Govt. Of Assam acquired the said property 'Inglisby' of Sir Chuachand in exchange of 'Redlands' and Lachatallette and its adjoining areas on 1935-36. (Situated adjacent to St. Mary's Collegiate School)

In the year 1940, Maharaj Kumari Binodini, the youngest daughter of Sir Churachand was admitted in St. Mary's College Shillong. The responsibility of M.K. Binodini's guardianship was entrusted to Konthoujam Paramandanda Singh, at the behest of Maharani Dhanamanjuri Devi. Since then, he along with his family stayed on in Redlands, Manipur Rajbari.

During Maharaja Bodhchandra's time, Paramananda Singh was given the added responsibility of 'Redlands and La Chatelet' affairs. Accordingly, he became the 'Agent' of 'Redlands' on an honorary basis in place of I. Simon, former Agent whose monthly payment was Rs. 40/- (Forty)

After the demise of Maharaja Bodhchandra in the year 1955, the Royal legacy was passed on to Okendrajit (Maharaja Bodhchandra's son). Being a minor, Late Krishnamohan Singh became the guardian and administrator of Maharaja Okendrajit and the palace.

In the meantime, Paramananda Singh expired on October 11, 1961 and in his place, wife Smt. Sovasini Devi was appointed Agent of Redlands. Subsequently, at the request of Sovasini, her nephew Chandam Phanindra Singh also became the co-Agent.

The administration of the palace was placed under the Asst. Manager of Court of Wards Mr. B. Dasgupta. However, as per findings of S.D.C. Mr. Hazarika, no papers and documents could be traced regarding Redlands and 'La Chatelet' at D.C's office. Accordingly, the care-taker Phanindra Singh was instructed to contact the Syiem of Mylliem's office at Mawkhar. But no such papers were found at the office of Mawkhar, only a small file relating to Manipur Rajbari at Upper Shillong was traced.

According to the Constitution Twenty-sixth Amendment Act, 1971 when Privy Purse and privileges were abolished, B.K. Roy Choudhury (Basanta Choudhury) Pvt. Secy to Maharaja Okendrajit came to Shillong and submitted an application in the office of Syiem of Mylliem with the caretaker Phanindra Singh's help. Accordingly, as per survey conducted by Nanigopal Das, Surveyor of Directorate of Assam Survey, the total area of Redlands and La Chatelet combined (and its adjoining areas) was 81,888 sq.ft.

After conducting proper Survey maps, 3 copies of patta were issued. However, Okendrajit in collaboration with B.K. Roy Choudhury sold off the entire property of Redlands including land, building, out-houses, assets to one Mr. Nismit Laloo and J.Pyngrope for Rs. 4 lakhs (four lakhs) officially and in reality the entire amount was Rs. 2 lakhs only (unofficially) on Feb 27, 1980 (February twenty-seventh, 1980).

After completing transaction with the help of lawyer Bibhuti Das, Mr Laloo and the officials of D.C's office came to take possession of the half vacant portion of the main bungalow. At the time of possession, Late Mr. Maibam Haricharan and his family were staying on the other half portion of the main bungalow. As such, Mr. Laloo and party could not take possession of the entire bungalow. (Here the question arises, how the entire property could be disposed off without any trace of knowledge of other Royal families Sir Churachand's offsprings).

On March 25th 1980, Mr Nismit Laloo accompanied by his henchmen forcibly entered the house of Sovasini Devi (my mother and w/o late Paramananda Singh) when she was all alone. However, she took prompt action by registering a 'Trespass Charge' against Mr Laloo and party at the Laithumukhrah Police station. This was how the detailed nature of fraudulent transaction came to light.

The matter was immediately intimated to M.K. Priyabrata (second son of Maharaj Churachand Singh and Rani Shyamasakhi) at Imphal who promptly issued injunction against the transaction on April 4th, 1980. The Caretaker through a secret source learnt that Mr. Laloo and Mr. Pyngrope had resold this entire property to the Govt. of Meghalaya for Rs. 12 lakhs. The matter was telephonically communicated to Waikhom Damodar Singh, the then Pvt. Secy. to the Chief Minister R.K. Dorendra Singh. Waikhom Damodar Singh accordingly sent a wireless message on 6th April, 1980 to the Chief Secy of Meghalaya, Shillong with a copy to the:

1) Home Ministry, New Delhi; 2) Governor's Secy. Shillong and 3) Sri Chandam Phanindra Singh, Caretaker, Redlands, Shillong.

Much had happened during that intervening period. It was not possible to pen every detail. In short, residents of Rajbari had to endure all sorts of harassment and inconvenience and even to seek police protection from Nismit Laloo and party.

In the year 1988, the caretaker Phanindra Singh came to Imphal and apprised Shri R.K. Joychandra Singh, the Chief Minister of Manipur, of the prevailing situation. The CM took a wise decision to settle the matter out of court in consultation with Finance Minister L. Lalit Singh. Accordingly, F.M was sent to Shillong to settle the matter in the chamber of Dy. Chief Minister D.D. Lapang for Rs. 11 lakhs (Eleven lakhs). But the transaction came to a standstill due to the fall of Congress Ministry.

Taking advantage of the situation, Mr Laloo fraudulently occupied a portion of Redlands and even constructed a concrete house. The Govt. of Manipur finally filed a case in 1994. The trespass charge against Mr. Laloo by Sovasini Dev (w/o late Paramanda Singh) proved to be a turning point in the State vs. Laloo case which lasted over a period of quarter of a century.

Here it is worth mentioning that, had it not been for the families staying at Rajbari (with due permission from Palace Authority), Sir Churachand's Redlands would have become Meghalaya House. Smt. Sovasini Devi, soul behind this marathon case could not live to see the outcome of this entire proceeding as she expired untimely on 14th April, 1981.

Coming to the end of this article, it will be a gross injustice if the names of some of the dedicated persons associated with this case are missed out. The names that stand out prominently are 1) Late Maibam Haricharan Singh; 2) Khetrimayum Gyanendra Singh; 3) Late Nameirakpam Promod Singh, Sr. Advocate Govt. of Manipur and 4) W. Kunjamani Singh, Public Prosecutor, Govt. of Manipur.

It was a battle against fake ownership and the families resisted till the end. Although my mother did not survive to see the result, her nephew Chandam Phanindra Singh is still alive, nearing 100 years of age, one man who steered the entire case single handedly.

Once this majestic and picturesque place of Maharajas, princes and princesses are now in an utterly sorry state. Trees as old as 100 yrs are now vanishing rapidly. No more flower beds, no more shrubs, no more orchards (which pains me most). Now in its place stands a haggard, ill-maintained old bungalow. Is this Sir Churachand's Redlands? I wonder.

* Yumnam Bijaya Devi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on July 25, 2017.

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