The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Treasure in Birla Park hidden room
- Battle with Lodha over Priyamvada legacy leads court officers to almirah holding gold coins and other valuables

Calcutta, Aug. 31: The treasure hunt kicked off by the bequeath battle between the Birla family and Rajendra Singh Lodha has led to a treasure trove in the heart of south Calcutta.

Hundreds of gold coins ' apparently from the Gupta, Maurya and Mughal eras ' and gold artefacts like tea sets and flower vases were found yesterday at around 7 pm in an almirah in the strongroom of Priyamvada Birla’s residence at Birla Park on Gurusaday Dutt Road.

Three pistols ' all licensed ' were also among the valuables.

A maze of hidden rooms, sliding doors suddenly opening into another room, a master-key unlocking all entry points ' the process of discovery bore all elements of a trademark Manmohan Desai film.

The four-member team of special officers, appointed by Calcutta High Court to prepare an inventory of Priyamvada’s personal assets, chanced upon these valuables in a strongroom, hidden behind a wooden panel in the study on the ground floor of the third bungalow at Birla Park.

As keys were not available ' Lodha could produce only four, which, according to him, Priyamvada gave him before getting admitted to Belle Vue for the last time ' two locksmiths were called in to break open the old Godrej almirah. They succeeded in their third attempt.

But, with so many valuable items tumbling out of the almirah, the team did not prepare an inventory and left Birla Park yesterday after sealing it and leaving behind guards.

Ahin Chowdhury and Ashok Banerjee, two of the special officers, brought the dramatic discovery to the notice of Justice Kalyanjyoti Sengupta today and sought further direction.

Justice Sengupta directed Lodha and the Birlas to appoint four armed guards each to secure the items. To store the valuables found today, each side will provide an almirah.

The two sides are engaged in a bitter legal battle over the assets of the MP Birla group. According to a will produced by Lodha, Priyamvada, MP’s widow, left the group’s assets to him.

The judge instructed the special officers to make the inventory in the presence of two representatives from each side and photograph all items. The process was started today.

The officers declined comment on the find, but sources close to the Birlas gave a tentative list and the approximate value.

“M.P. Birla used to collect old coins. No less than 200 to 300 such coins were found in boxes inside the almirah along with a number of golden artefacts,” said a family confidant.

The value will be over Rs 500 crore, he said, accusing Lodha of trying to hide the existence of a strongroom.

According to the source, the valuation of the couple’s personal assets will swell once the remaining three safes ' one in the strongroom and two more on the top floor ' are broken open.

In the affidavit accompanying his petition to authenticate Priyamvada’s will, Lodha valued her jewellery, silver utensils and other assets at around Rs 16 lakh.

The total value of all her assets was shown as Rs 4.22 crore, while the Birla family claimed it to be around Rs 2,400 crore.

“The list of assets was disclosed on the basis of the books of accounts, which were consistently followed by Mrs Birla (Priyamvada) every year during her lifetime,” said a release issued by Debanjan Mandal, solicitor for Lodha.

“We have' instructed the caretaker to ensure that no valuables are taken out. All things are kept as they were at the time of death of Mrs Birla,” it said.

Playing down the treasure find and the value attached to it by the Birlas, it added that the family was indulging in a “disinformation campaign” to sensationalise the exercise.

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