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Setback to Lodha

Sept. 14: At an auditorium in south Calcutta tomorrow, the curtain goes up on the Birla-Lodha battle over the crown jewel in their dispute.

But a day ahead of the annual general meeting of Birla Corporation, the flagship company of the MP Birla group, R.S. Lodha suffered a setback.

By virtue of M.P. Birla's widow Priyamvada's will, which the Birla family has challenged in court, Lodha is in control at Rs 1,124-crore Birla Corp where he is co-chairman.

His three-year term on the company's board ends tomorrow. In the normal process, Lodha would have been reappointed at the meeting on the strength of the 64.28 per cent promoters' holding he now controls through the bequest in the will that makes him heir to all MP Birla properties.

A Company Law Board (CLB) order, however, said today that while polling to elect Lodha and two other non-executive directors, whose terms are also ending, can be held tomorrow, the result cannot be announced until it settles the case before it.

A group of 139 shareholders of Birla Corp moved the CLB yesterday alleging 'mismanagement' by the Lodha-led dispensation and sought adjournment of the meeting.

The CLB rejected the appeal which would gladden Lodha's heart. But the rub lay in the directive that all documents related to tomorrow's polling would be sealed and kept in the custody of the company secretary until the CLB gave its verdict on the petition. The next hearing will be held on November 22, until when Lodha will be in limbo.

His election, though, is beyond doubt because of the majority holding resting with him. The CLB dismissed the petitioners' prayer to freeze voting rights against the 64.28 per cent stake.

The board's order to hold the poll results in abeyance was music to the ears of those Birla Corp shareholders who are trying to keep Lodha out of the company.

'Lodha will remain a director, but only technically. The order has curbed his control over the company and we are happy,' said one of them.

Of the 139 shareholders who signed the petition, 130 had bought their shares as late as last month. The counsel for Lodha said 63 of them were related to Birla family veteran Basant Kumar.

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