The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mahatma twist to Birla battle

Calcutta, Aug. 25: The succession battle involving the first family of corporate India got off to a dramatic start in court today with the spotlight being hogged by, believe it or not, the Father of the Nation.

A letter by Gajanan Birla, purportedly signed in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi on August 2, 1934, was at the centre of the courtroom drama in Calcutta High Court. The pages from the past were placed before the court by lawyers representing Rajendra Singh Lodha in the bequeath battle against the Birla family.

Lodha’s petition to discharge four caveats — filed by K.K. Birla, B.K. Birla, G.P. Birla and Yasovardhan Birla — came up for hearing before Justice Kalyanjyoti Sengupta. The lawyers representing Lodha, led by Anindya Mitra and Pratap Chatterjee, analysed the four affidavits separately.

The chartered accountant has moved a petition to authenticate the will — that was read out for the first time in public in the court today — of Priyamvada Birla, in which she had bequeathed the assets of the M.P. Birla group to Lodha. The Birla family is contesting the claim and has fielded Arun Jaitley and Satyabrata Mukherjee, both former Union ministers, in the legal battle.

Jaitley, a former law minister, and P.K. Roy kicked off the post-lunch proceedings by filing a supplementary application to include B.K. Birla and Yasovardhan as the executors of the “joint and mutual wills” of M.P. Birla and Priyamvada Birla made in 1982.

“Both of them were named as executors in each other’s wills. As the living executors can fill up the vacancies, we are moving this application for induction of B.K. Birla and Yasovardhan Birla as the executors with regard to the two wills,” said Jaitley. The matter — along with the Birla family’s request to file photocopies of the 1982 will — will come up for hearing on Monday.

As the lawyers representing Lodha stood up to argue their case, Mitra produced the 70-year-old letter of Gajanan Birla to highlight what the advocate described as divisions in the business family. The family’s unity claims — with examples like co-ownership of an orchard in Kumayun and voting rights in Bombay Hospital — also came under the scanner.

Gajanan Birla, the younger son of Rameshwar Das, had mentioned in his letter, also witnessed by the family’s patriarch G.D. Birla, that he did not have “any interest in or authority concerning any property or business in which Raja Baldeo Das Birla or any of his descendants are interested.”

Placing the letter before Justice Sengupta, Mitra asked how Yasovardhan could be an interested party in the case if his grandfather had relinquished his claims way back in 1934.

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