The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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With will, Birlas grope for a way
- Family goes into strategy session with copy of document

Calcutta, July 23: Finding a way through a will is not always easy.

Twelve days after Rajendra Singh Lodha read out the will of the late Priyamvada Birla to members of the country’s first business family, the Birlas today received copies of the document and hunkered down to working out the counter-strategy.

Priyamvada Birla has left all her properties to Lodha, whom the Birlas consider an outsider.

The family was also informed by Calcutta High Court that Lodha had filed a probate petition to authenticate the will. He also submitted a petition challenging the authority of the Birlas who had filed caveats earlier asking to be heard when the probate comes up for authentication in court.

“The main argument of the Birla family against the will was that both Priyamvada and her late husband M.P. Birla wanted their assets to be used for the purpose of charity. The copy of the will, filed by Lodha in court, that the family received today also spoke at length about charity. It caught the family off guard,” said a source.

There were reports of a meeting at the family residence Birla Park this evening where members of the family — led by B.K. Birla — discussed the will with solicitor .G. Khaitan and senior lawyers of Khaitan and Co.

Although the details of the meeting were not available, the discussions, while obviously covering the legal arguments to be presented against the will also touched on the possibilities of a compromise with Lodha.

The family also discussed the implications of the fresh petition filed by Fox & Mandal, the solicitor firm representing Lodha. A spokesperson for the firm said a petition challenging the validity of the caveat petitions filed by four members of the Birla family, K.K. Birla, B.K. Birla, S.K. Birla and Yashovardhan Birla, was filed on Friday.

“They had no authority to file caveat petitions in the probate case,” explained the spokesperson.

There were rumours of other members of the Birla family meeting in Mumbai among themselves and with lawyers. One report suggested that the two sides were negotiating through the mediation of a leading solicitor. Kumar Mangalam Birla, who heads the largest empire within the family, was present at the discussions.

“It is clear that Lodha is interested in talking it out, but the Birla family knows that he will not abdicate his chances of getting into the board of Pilani Investments and that’s something the family does not want to compromise on,” said a source.

Pilani Investments is an investment outfit of the Birla family, which has stakes in many group companies. The MP Birla holding, which by virtue of the will stands in the name of Lodha, in Pilani is 25 per cent.

The Birla family is picking the country’s best legal brains. Apparently, the family is taking advice from Goolam E. Vahanvati, tipped to become the country’s next solicitor general, in their fight against Lodha. The other names doing the rounds in Birla Building are Fali Nariman, Harish Salve, Kirit Rawal, Dipankar Gupta and S.B. Mukherjee.

The line of thinking shared by the Birla family with the legal counsel is that Priyamvada Birla had been under heavy medication for the past 20 years and was not in good health when the will was prepared.

“The Lodhas are prepared to fight this argument as they have medical reports and even photographs of Priyamvada Birla in China, where she accompanied the Lodha family for a vacation in the past year,” said a source.

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