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Birlas cross a hurdle
- BK in Pilani control after family settlement

Calcutta, Aug. 4: The Birlas today resolved to a great extent a decades-long tangle of cross-holdings in Pilani Investments, with B.K. Birla buying around 27 per cent additional shares to emerge majority stakeholder.

The move consolidates his control over the Rs 2,500-crore Century Textile and Industries, in which the family’s holding through Pilani is 36 per cent.

A day after Anil Ambani announced de-merger of his business from the Reliance empire, the Birlas buried a “19-year-old” bone of contention, though there is still the sticking point of R.S. Lodha holding 25 per cent in Pilani by virtue of his control of the late M.P. Birla’s businesses.

On the 15th floor of Birla Buildings, the family’s corporate headquarters on R.N. Mukherjee Road, 84-year-old Basant Kumar Birla sealed two separate deals, worth over Rs 300 crore, with nephew S.K. Birla and a representative of brother G.P. Birla.

“Me and my grandson Kumar Mangalam now have majority, a little over 50 per cent, stake in Pilani Investments. The deal was completed amicably and we paid Rs 1,500 per share for the acquisition,” BK Babu ' as he is referred to in corporate circles ' told The Telegraph.

“Our control over Century Textiles is fully established now.”

Till yesterday, all the Birla clans had a slice of Pilani. The BK group had 25 per cent, GP and MP had 25 per cent each, SK and KK had 7 per cent each and the rest was with the public (see chart).

The move comes months after Lodha controversially claimed that the late Priyamvada Birla had made him sole successor of the M.P. Birla group, which the Birlas are contesting in the courts. This meant the group’s 25 per cent stake in Pilani was under Lodha’s control.

“Lodha still has control over 25 per cent, but that will not make any difference,” BK said.

The deal to acquire an additional 27 per cent of the company values Pilani, through which the Birla family controls its sprawl of companies, at around Rs 1,000 to 1,200 crore.

“We decided on the valuation ourselves,” BK said.

“It has taken more than 19 years to sort things out'. My elder brother KK wanted to give me his shares for free, but I have told him that I would pay up and acquire his stake whenever necessary.”

BK had told The Telegraph a few months ago, after the Lodha controversy erupted, that one Birla group would have to control Pilani by buying out shares from others. Only two individuals, Chandra Kant (son of GP) and Kumar Mangalam (BK’s grandson) could do that, he had said.

“Today’s development indicates the family has agreed that Kumar Mangalam would control Pilani,” said a Birla family insider. BK has always made it clear that his stakes in Pilani would go to his grandson.

Kumar Mangalam has more than one reason to be happy: Pilani’s holdings in Grasim and Hindalco, which he owns, are 4.69 per cent and 2.33 per cent.

Pilani Investments started out as a closely-held firm and a vehicle for G.D. Birla, the founder of the family business empire, to pursue his passion for speculative deals in jute, cotton futures and shares. It was a stock-market darling until the Birlas bought back much of its shares.

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