Government buys jewels

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 1995, 12:00am

THE fabled jewels of the former Nizam of Hyderabad, once counted among the world's richest men, have been bought by the Government for 2.18 billion rupees (HK$551.54 million) after a 20-year legal battle.

Officials from the Department of Culture in New Delhi concede the purchase price, fixed by a government-appointed arbitrator, is 'paltry'.

The aim is to keep the 173 pieces of priceless jewellery from being sold overseas by the nizam's Jewellery Trust.

Trust officials say 70 beneficiaries are entitled to a share of the sale proceeds but only 25 are living, mostly in Hyderabad, southern India.

The two main beneficiaries are Mir Barkat Ali, the 61-year-old former eighth nizam, and Prince Mukkaram Jah, the seventh nizam's grandson.

The transaction for the jewellery took place at the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank in Bombay. The gems have lain there since they were lodged for safekeeping by Sir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, in the 1950s.

The jewellery, including the Jacob diamond, one of the world's biggest, was inspected by Culture Ministry officials before being ferried to New Delhi on a special flight.

The items are to be put on public display later in the year.

The sale of the nizam's jewellery has been locked in a protracted legal battle.

According to Sir Osman's will, the collection was to be sold three years after the death of Azam Jah Bahadur, his son, who died in 1970.

The jewel sale, however, was arbitrarily stopped by the Government in 1972 - while international dealers were flying to the auction - on the grounds that it did not want national treasures leaving the country.

The nizam's trustees filed a petition and, after years of inconclusive court hearings, an arbitrator was appointed who fixed the sale price for the jewels.

Prince Mukarram Jah, the 8th Nizam, one of the principal beneficiaries, is one of the most colourful Indian royals.