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Feb date for trial in Birla will case

Calcutta, Jan. 8: The courtroom drama in the battle between the Birlas and the Lodhas over Priyamvada Birla’s will is about to begin.

After a protracted legal battle that has gone on for over three and a half years, the stage is set for a courtroom trial.

On Tuesday, a city court paved the way for a gripping witness-box drama that is likely to feature both Birla family members and the Lodhas.

Apurba Sinha Roy, chief judicial magistrate of Alipore court, rejected a petition filed by R.P. Pansari, a Birla confidant, against Rajendra Singh Lodha and three associates seeking a search order.

This petition has been holding up the criminal case against Lodha, which will now start on February 15.

Debanjan Mandal, the Lodha counsel, termed the rejection of the search petition as a major victory. “The petition was set up to malign the public image of my client,” he said.

The Birlas were also pleased by the development. “We are happy that the trial will begin now. The criminal proceedings against Lodha can finally start. The stalemate is over,” a Birla confidant said.

However, he ruled out the possibility of any of the Birlas being called to the witness box.

“The Birlas are not involved in this particular case. However, the Lodhas would be called to the witness box,” he added.

The Lodha camp, however, said there was a possibility that Birla family members would be called too.

“In case one has to prove that the Late Priyamvada Birla’s will of 1999 that bequeathed the MP Birla empire to R.S. Lodha is fabricated, then the Mutual Will of 1982 which the Birlas presented has to be examined in the court of law,” a Lodha confidant argued.

If that happens, the Birlas would be called to the witness box as well.

Pansari, a former MP Birla group employee, had filed the criminal complaint against Lodha, S.N. Prasad, S.K. Daga and V. Gaurishankar alleging criminal breach of trust, cheating, conversion of trust property into personal property in connection with the 1999 will of Priyamvada Birla.

Lodha camp had maintained that the criminal offensive was launched to dissuade him from probating the will of Late Priyamvada Birla.

The petition for search was also filed in October 2004. The Birlas sought the search and seizure of shares certificates, company records, minute books of various investment companies of the MP Birla group, file correspondences and documents relating to various trusts.

Legal experts say the final verdict in criminal case would have an overbearing impact on who would finally rule the MP Birla empire.

“In case the Birlas could prove that the Will of 1999 was forged, Lodha stands nowhere. If Lodha can prove that it is legal, it will be easier for him to get a probate of the registered will,” they said.

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