Agartala: A Tripura court has asked the state government to return the 85-year-old Neermahal, eastern India's lone lake palace, to its builder - the state's ex-royal family, officials said here Tuesday.
Tripura's last king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur built the majestic palace Neermahal in 1930 in the midst of Rudrasagar lake as his summer residence.
The union forest and environment ministry had earlier declared Rudrasagar a national lake.
"Following a petition from the royal family member Bibhu Kumari Devi, Judicial Magistrate (Senior Division) Gobinda Das on Monday asked the state government to hand over Neermahal to the royal family within two months," a Tripura revenue department official said.
The civil court also directed the state government to pay a compensation of Rs.20.50 lakh annually with six percent interest since 2007.
The official said that Kirit Bikram Kishore Debbarman, last coroneted prince and former Lok Sabha member (Congress) from Tripura, handed over the Neermahal to the Congress-led state government in 1974.
According to the official, after the death of Kirit Bikram, his wife and former Congress minister Bibhu Kumari Devi asked the state government to return the palace to her.
The state government led by Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left Front, turned down Bibhu Kumari Dev's plea forcing her to file a suit before the court in 2008.
Lawyer Debabrata Chakraborty, who defends the state government in the case, said that the state government would file a petition against the lower court judgment in the Tripura High Court.
A blend of Hindu-Muslim architecture and about 400 metre in length, the royalty's summer resort has 24 rooms with provisions for private quarters for the king and his family and retinue of servants.
Tripura government has drawn up a Rs.50-crore plan to renovate and decorate the palace.
The Neermahal, placed in the centre of the 5.3 sq km Rudrasagar lake, is one of Tripura's favourite tourist destinations, 55 km west of here. The state government also built big tourist lodges there for the tourists.
The 'Mukta Manch'(open forum), a forum of environmentalists, intellectuals, academicians and renowned citizens, had demanded to publish a white paper on the status of Rudrasagar and Neermahal, second of its kind in India after lake palace in Rajasthan's Udaipur.
"We have urged Chief Minister Manik Sarkar to personally intervene into the matter and take suitable action to protect the heritage building," said 'Mukta Manch' convener and writer, Arun Nath.
"The central government had sanctioned Rs.1.6 million for afforestation around the Rudrasagar area, but the forest department diverted the money," Nath alleged.
He said the palace and lake still draw thousands of visitors every year despite the poor condition of the lake which has become shallow because of heavy deposit of silt.
At the end of several hundred years of rule by 184 kings, on October 15, 1949, the erstwhile princely state Tripura came under the control of the Indian government according to a merger agreement signed between Kanchan Prabha Devi, then regent maharani, and the governor general of India.
The merger agreement made it obligatory for the Tripura government to continue the sponsorship of several temples run earlier by Hindu princely rulers. And it continues to do so to this day.
According to the 1949 merger agreement, Neermahal is the personal property of the royal family.