The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lodha in charge, 99.99 per cent

Calcutta, Sept. 15: At a seat of theatre in south Calcutta, Rajendra Singh Lodha took centre stage.

Locked in a battle with the powerful Birla family over an inheritance, Lodha proved he was in full control of the largest property involved in the dispute at a six-hour drama which unfolded at Uttam Mancha, named after Bengali film legend Uttam Kumar.

At the stormy annual general meeting of Birla Corporation, the flagship company of the MP Birla group, Lodha commanded close to full support of the shareholders when his name was put to vote for chairing the session.

A group of shareholders rushed to the podium in one corner of the stage, shouting that Lodha could not chair the meeting. Dharmendra Bhandari had earlier been chosen chairman by a show of hands but he proposed Lodha's name.

'He can't chair the meeting as the election of a provisional chairman has already been done. Why are you conducting a poll' demanded S.K. Pareek, a shareholder of Birla Corp and an official of Kesoram Industries, a company owned by B.K. Birla.

B.K. Birla is a contestant of the will Lodha has produced in which Priyamvada Birla, the widow of M.P. Birla, has left all properties to him.

Some 15 other protesting shareholders collected around Pareek and were soon taken on by Lodha loyalists, forcing police intervention. But the voting continued and Lodha bagged 99.99 per cent of the over 5.22 crore votes (one vote against one share) polled, winning the right to preside over the meeting.

Following an order yesterday by the Company Law Board (CLB), Lodha could not, however, act as chairman when three resolutions on reappointment of three directors whose terms were ending today were moved. One of these reappointments was his.

The result of the polling on these reappointments cannot be disclosed until the CLB disposes of a petition filed by some Birla Corp shareholders alleging mismanagement by the Lodha-led dispensation. Priyamvada Birla had made him co-chairman.

'Badi Ma's' memory hung over the meeting ' Lodha mentioned Priyamvada, who died in July.

For the first time since the war of the will erupted, he also opened his mouth on the subject in public, replying to accusations hurled by the Birlas.

'Some people have claimed that they were not aware this was coming. Don't get swayed by choppy waters,' Lodha said.

It was a reference to the Birla argument that Priyamvada Birla could not have left her assets to an outsider.

Lodha also clarified that the expense of the litigation with the Birlas was not being 'debited' to Birla Corp.

As wave after wave of loud protests by shareholders of the rival camp lapped the shore of the stage, Lodha sat calmly, with seven other directors. Nandini Nopany, the daughter of K.K. Birla and a director, was not present.

Not mixing the legal battle with company affairs, Lodha proposed her name for reappointment and she was re-elected, though she belongs to the enemy camp. Nopany's reappointment was cleared after the CLB gave permission.

See Business Telegraph

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