The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Birla battle, gift-wrapped

Calcutta, Nov. 10: Missive before the mithai.

This Diwali, close associates of the Birlas have received a 10-page document ' 'With compliments from B.K. Birla' ' describing the family's side in the inheritance war with Rajendra Singh Lodha.

'As you have been a long-standing well-wisher of the family, I thought it was my duty to place the full facts before you' which put the issues in perspective,' reads the accompanying letter, stressing that the case has 'profound moral and ethical dimensions, besides legal considerations'.

The letter does not bear any signature, only the card with it bears family veteran Basant Kumar Birla's name.

The Birlas and Lodha are locked in a legal battle over the assets of the MP Birla group. Lodha has claimed that Priyamvada Birla, the widow of M.P. Birla, bequeathed the inheritance to him in her last testament executed on April 18, 1999.

In opposing Lodha, the Birla family's objective, according to the document, is 'to restore the Rs 5,000 crore dedication to the nation, hijacked by an individual, back to the nation'. Sources in Birla Building say 'around 150' such letters have been sent out.

'Though people have already formed their opinion on the issue and taken their position, the letter would once again make it a talking point. This is the time of the year when the community gets together and so the timing of the letter is very interesting,' says a businessman requesting anonymity.

Split in two sections ' Part A highlights 'Birla vs Lodha litigation: the larger issues' while Part B is titled 'Note regarding criminal complaint' ' the document reiterates the commitment of M.P. Birla and Priyamvada Birla to charity.

It describes the 'sordid drama' surrounding 'operation hijack of the properties that has deprived the nation of the largest-ever charity'.

Pointing out that the couple had executed mutual wills in 1982, then set up five trusts in 1988 and finally nominated three charitable institutions in 1989 as the ultimate beneficiaries of the five trusts, the document raises questions about the role of Lodha.

'Should he advise her (Priyamvada) to bequeath the estate worth Rs 2,400 crore, resolved to be vested in charity by her and her deceased husband jointly, to him to inherit and enjoy' asks the document.

Reacting to the move, a spokesperson for Lodha said: 'This note is baseless, mala fide and not based on facts. In any event, the matter is sub judice and we don't have anything to comment.'

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