Behind Punjab government’s nod to restore Malerkotla palace, ‘last wish’ of 97-yr-old Begum

The Punjab Cabinet had given its nod for the acquisition, conservation and use of the palace for tourism on Monday.

After decades of neglect, 150-year-old Mubarak Manzil Palace of Malerkotla will soon be a protected monument and restored and renovated by the Punjab government, thanks to Begum Munawwar-ul-Nisa, the wife of last Nawab of Malerkotla, who has handed over the private property to the government.

The Punjab Cabinet had given its nod for the acquisition, conservation and use of the palace for tourism on Monday.

Begum Nisa, a princess, is the successor of Nawab Sher Mohammad Khan of Malerkotla, who holds a special place in Punjab’s history. He had vehemently raised his voice against the execution of the younger Sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh, Baba Zorawar Singh and Baba Fateh Singh, in the court of the Subedar of Sirhind, Wazir Khan, in 1705.

The 97-year-old Begum Nisa, speaking to The Indian Express on a conference phone call through former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arshad Dali, said, I have handed over the palace to the government. Meri akhiri ichchha, aap keh sakte ho, yahi hai ke main iss mahal ko pehle ki tarah jagmagata chorr kar jayun. (My last wish, you can say, is to see the palace return to its pristine glory before I die).” Begum Nisa has no child or legal heir.

Dali has become a bridge between the government and the Begum, who wanted the government to acquire the palace. “She was worried that after her the palace would be usurped by private parties. Now it will become a government’s possession. After all, there is the important history of this place. Guru Gobind Singh had presented a sword to Nawab Sher Mohammad Sahib as a mark of honour for his support for his sons.”

Sanjay Kumar, Administrative Secretary, Tourism Government of Punjab, told The Indian Express that the government would soon initiate the process of declaring the palace a protected monument of the state. “We will declare it a protected monument after inviting objections. It will be a protected monument under the state’s Act. After that, we will start conserving and renovating the palace. We have accepted the Begum’s precondition that we should allow her to stay in the palace during her lifetime. After that, none of her successors will be allowed to stake claim on the property. It will be Punjab government’s property.”

He said that the government had offered Rs 3 crore to the Begum, “She had been apprehensive that the palace of such historical importance would be lost if there is no taker.”

About the condition of the palace, Sanjay Kumar said, “I can say it is not good. Roof of several rooms has collapsed and the entrance is also in bad shape.”

Begum Nisa had been living in penury for many years. The valuables in the palace were sold off over the years. Former Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu had once visited her and presented her with some pieces of furniture.

Begum Nisa had written to the state government that she is the sole owner, and has absolute rights to alienate the property to any person, including state or Tourism & Cultural Affairs Department.

The palace is spread over an area of 32,400 sq ft. There are several cases involving it going on in several courts.

The expected financial liability involved in purchase of this proposed protected monument and likely financial implications arising out of existing court cases is around Rs 5 crore. The government has got the land price evaluated.

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