The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Birla bitterness out in open
- Letter produced in court to highlight family division

Calcutta, Sept. 2: The Birla family’s private affairs, which have always remained behind the imposing gates of Birla Park, are tumbling out in the open in the legal battle over the MP Birla group’s assets.

At today’s hearing of Rajendra Singh Lodha’s petition seeking discharge of four caveats filed by Krishna Kumar, Basant Kumar, Ganga Prasad and Yashovardhan Birla in Calcutta High Court, a letter was produced to highlight the “bitterness” in the Birla family.

In the court of Justice Kalyanjyoti Sengupta, Lodha’s lawyer read out a letter of Ashok V. Birla, son of Gajanan Birla and father of Yashovardhan, to his uncle M.P. Birla to contest the Birla family’s unity claims. Ashok Birla’s letter, written on September 19, 1985, accuses his uncle of expressing “bitterness” against him and other family members while referring to the management of Bombay Hospital, run as part of the MP Birla group.

The letter’s relevance lies in the fact that Lodha is contesting the authority of the Birlas to challenge the will of the late Priyamvada Birla, M.P. Birla’s widow, leaving all her properties to him.

Quoting from the letter, the lawyer said: “After all, this is not the first time that you have exhibited your intense bitterness against me... other family members also. I refer to numerous occasions when you have condemned uncle BK (Basant Kumar) and SKB (Sudarshan Kumar Birla) and auntie Mrs B.K. Birla in your unsuccessful attempts to use us as a tool to spite them, at times in the most disgraceful manner.”

Along with the letter came rejection of a Birla plea. Justice Sengupta turned down the family’s request to allow it to file notarised photocopies of the “joint and mutual” wills of MP and Priyamvada Birla, executed in 1982, along with an application to have it legally authenticated.

He asked for the original document to be submitted in seven days.

The judge adjourned the hearing of Lodha’s petition against the four Birla caveats till September 8. In the caveats, the four Birlas have sought to be included in any hearing of Lodha’s probate application to have Priyamvada Birla’s will authenticated in court.

On the same day, the judge will also take up the applications by two sisters of M.P. Birla, Radha Bai Mohta and Laxmi Bai Newar, to consider Lodha’s probate application as a “contentious matter”.

At today’s nearly three hours of hearing, Lodha’s lawyers argued that Krishna Kumar, Basant Kumar, Ganga Prasad and Yashovardhan Birla did not have a “caveatable interest” in Lodha’s probate petition.

It hits at the root of the affidavit filed by Yashovardhan, the grandson of Gajanan Birla, which claims that the Birlas are a Hindu Undivided Family in taking forward the argument that Priyamvada Birla could not bequeath her properties to an “outsider”.

Other than producing the letter, the lawyers cited instances to show how the businesses were run separately and how, though Priyamvada Birla had some investments in Yashovardhan’s companies, these were minor.

They took up the affidavit of Basant Kumar Birla and argued that the factors cited by him — larger and wider Birla family, common ancestors, co-ownership of the orchard in Kumaon and common directorship in companies — were not enough to prove “caveatable interest”.

The “only commonality”, they argued, was in the “surname”.

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