The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Three out, one Birla left
- Court upholds Lodha challenge in Priyamvada will case

Calcutta, March 11: Three key members of the Birla family ' Krishna Kumar, Basant Kumar and Yashovardhan ' will have no say when Priyamvada Birla's 1999 will comes up in court for legal authentication.

Calcutta High Court today ruled that only G.P. Birla will have a legal role when Rajendra Singh Lodha's application to authenticate ' probate, in legal jargon ' the will in which Priyamvada has left all her property to him is heard.

Breaking his eight-month silence, Lodha told The Telegraph: 'I am determined to ensure that all the wishes of Smt. Priyamvada Birla be honoured. Let the truth prevail.'

Priyamvada, the widow of MP Birla, died in July 2004. A few days later, Lodha unveiled her will, made in 1999, before the Birla family. It showed that Priyamvada had left all assets of the MP Birla group to Lodha, who had served her as an adviser.

Alleging that Lodha, a 'rank outsider', was trying to usurp the assets originally meant for charity, the Birla family opposed the claim, questioned the veracity of the will and filed six caveats (right to be heard) on Lodha's probate application.

Lodha challenged the caveats of the four members of the Birla family, but did not oppose those filed by MP Birla's two sisters ' Laxmi Devi Newar and Radha Devi Mohatta.

In the first significant judgment in the bequeath battle, Justice Kalyanjyoti Sengupta today ruled that only G.P. Birla had an interest in the case, but that too in his capacity as an executor of a will Priyamvada made previously.

The Birla family claims she and her husband had made two wills in 1982 ' jointly and mutually. The family has applied for probate of these wills. The Birlas call the 1999 will, produced by Lodha, 'fake'.

The court today upheld Lodha's caveat in connection with probate of MP Birla's 1982 will and ruled that it will be taken up for probate before the 1999 testament of Priyamvada.

In December, Justice Sengupta had said he would take up Priyamvada's last testament for probate before taking up the 1982 will.

'In case the 1982 will is legally authenticated, it would mean that Priyamvada Birla was the sole beneficiary of the MP Birla group's assets. And she was well within her rights to pass it on to anyone and that's what she did through her 1999 will,' said a spokesperson for Lodha's solicitors, Fox & Mandal.

The Birlas also claimed victory. 'Our contention was to challenge the 1999 will, and the court upheld our plea by allowing G.P. Birla's caveat. It does not matter how many people are contesting it,' said a spokesperson for Khaitan & Co., the solicitor firm for the Birla family.

But Khaitan & Co. did not rule out the possibility of appealing against the order and fielding two more caveators ' P. K. Khaitan and Kashi Nath Tapuriah, both executors of Priyamvada's 1982 will ' to oppose the 1999 document.

The court also appointed four special officers to prepare an inventory of household assets of Priyamvada in her houses in Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai and Allahabad.

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