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Battle over Birla will goes to court

Calcutta, July 19: Rajendra Singh Lodha today made the much-anticipated move in Calcutta High Court to probate Priyamvada Birla’s will that leaves the entire Rs 5,000-crore estate of the MP Birla group to him.

The rival camp, the united Birla family, responded with a war cry. “The Birla family will be contesting the grant of probate of the purported will filed by R.S. Lodha,” it said in a statement.

On behalf of Lodha, a four-line unsigned statement was issued, declaring that he had filed a petition in the high court to get the will authenticated.

But the key line in the statement is that the “will is a registered document”.

Legal experts said the fact of the will having been registered makes Lodha’s case stronger. It means the person making the will and the witnesses — apparently there were three — put their signatures on the document in the presence of a registrar under the Indian Registration Act.

“A registered will reduces the chance of the witnesses turning hostile,” the experts said.

According to unconfirmed information, the witnesses to Priyamvada Birla’s will were her secretary M.P. Sharma, the family’s physician Dr Madan Mishra and lawyer P.L. Agarwal.

Lodha filed his petition with the court’s testamentary department, which will now issue a notice to the Birlas informing them that the process of probate has started. Anxious to avoid publicity, Lodha did not come to court himself, but on his request a court officer was sent to his house.

“On receipt of the notice, the Birlas will contest the will and the actual legal battle will start,” said a lawyer.

The Birlas will get a copy of Lodha’s petition and of the will of Priyamvada Birla, for which their lawyers had issued a notice to the Lodhas.

“We had sent a reply (to the notice) on behalf of our clients, but we can’t divulge whether we had sent a copy of the will,” said Debanjan Mandal of Fox & Mandal, the solicitors for the Lodhas.

Along with the probate application, it is legally required to file an affidavit with a detailed list of assets and their valuation. “This requires paying stamp duty and we have paid the maximum stamp duty of Rs 50,000,” Mandal added.

Priyamvada Birla inherited the assets from her husband M.P. Birla who died in 1990. Lodha became her confidant and was named co-chairman of Birla Corporation, the flagship company of the MP Birla group.

By virtue of the will, Lodha has not only chanced upon all the assets of the group but also a substantial shareholding in Pilani Investments, which owns stakes in a large number of companies across several wings of the Birla clan.

The Birlas, however, say their motive for challenging the will is not the property. “We remain committed and united in our resolve to protect and secure the estate of M.P. Birla and Priyamvada Birla for charity as was intended and stated by them on numerous occasions,” the statement said.

One hurdle the Birlas may face while presenting their challenge is the detailed instructions — called a codicil — attached to the will about how it should be executed.

See Business Telegraph

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