The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Brushes of Roerich in Priyamvada will war

Calcutta, July 18: The Birlas are examining the famous Roerich case, in which noted Russian painter Svetoslav Roerich and his actress-wife Devika Rani’s huge property in Bangalore was claimed by their personal assistant Mary Joyce Poonacha through a purported will.

Har Kishore Kejriwal, the Birla family’s old friend and business associate, told The Telegraph from Bangalore that the case was similar in all respects to the controversy over Priyamvada Birla’s will. He said a clear parallel could be drawn between the two cases, where outsiders claimed properties on the basis of purported wills.

“I had been associated with Sushila (Priyamvada Birla’s maiden name) since childhood. When I met her three months back, she told me the property should go to a charitable trust. How come she changed her mind so suddenly and gave it to Lodha'” Kejriwal asked. According to him, it was possible that Priyamvada signed some papers without bothering to find out the contents. This was not unusual for a lady who would sign a lot of papers in her frail health.

Kejriwal had also been close to the Roerichs by virtue of his association with Birla Academy, which predominantly works in the fields of art and culture.

The Roerichs owned over 500 acres of land in a Bangalore suburb that is now home to the famous Tataguni Estate. The painter also left behind over 900 paintings, many of which went missing. Most of the jewellery of Devika Rani Roerich, who died only 15 months after her husband, also could not be traced.

Joyce, claiming to be the legal heir of the couple, had transferred most of the property in her name. She is still facing a series of criminal cases along with her husband and a family friend. Later, Karnataka High Court allowed the state government to take over the estate and set up an art gallery and a museum and preserve its gardens. A board of trustees, headed by the state chief secretary and consisting largely of government officials, runs the estate.

According to Kejriwal, a similar solution is required in the Birla-Lodha will war. He suggested that three retired Supreme Court judges should oversee the MP Birla group property. He sees no chance of a compromise with R. S. Lodha who, he points out, has not even given a copy of the will to the Birlas.

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