Calcutta/New Delhi, Aug. 25: V. Gaurishankar, the advocate who drafted Priyamvada Birla’s final will, today informed a Supreme Court bench that the disputed document was authentic and that she had been in ‘her full senses’ when she signed it. He said the will had been drawn up under specific instructions from her.
The will, which was executed on April 18, 1999, is at the centre of a raging battle between the Birla clan and Rajendra S. Lodha who was bequeathed the Rs 5000-crore MP Birla estate after Priyamvada died on July 3 last year.
“Priyamvada had read the draft of the 1999 will in front of me and approved it before signing it,” said Gaurishankar.
Gaurishankar’s statement in court ' the first time that he has come forward to ‘authenticate’ the will ' added a new twist to the legal battle that is being fought on two levels: the first is a criminal case in which Lodha and Gaurishankar along with Shiv Nath Prasad and Sushil Kumar Daga have been accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy to misappropriate the MP Birla estate. The second legal strand is a civil suit filed by Lodha seeking probate of the disputed will.
Gaurishankar’s statement in the apex court today arose from a special leave petition filed by Lodha and his associates seeking to quash the criminal proceedings that have been initiated against them by Rajendra Prasad Pansari, an employee of the Birla group.
Gaurishankar was reticent when The Telegraph approached him later in the day. “Being a designated senior counsel of the court, I cannot say anything on a pending matter. It is sub judice. I am old '83 years now ' they (Lodha and the others) came and got my signature. Yes, that is the true will.”
In Calcutta, Basant Kumar Birla, who has been spearheading the fight by the Birla clan, said: “He (Gaurishankar) is one of the accused and he is trying to safeguard his interest. We will decide our next course of action after consulting lawyers.”
Last October, Pansari had filed a criminal case in the Alipore sub divisional judicial magistrate’s court which accused Lodha and the others of conspiring to misappropriate properties worth Rs 2400 crore that had been invested in five trusts meant for charitable purposes.
The charges against Lodha and the others had been filed under section 120b (criminal conspiracy) read with sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 417 (punishment for cheating), 420 (cheating), and 204 (destruction of documents to prevent their production as evidence) of the Indian Penal Code.
Lodha had moved Calcutta High Court seeking to either quash the criminal proceedings or hold it in abeyance till the civil court decided on his application for probate of Priyamvada’s will. The court refused to oblige and referred it back to the Alipore court, prompting today’s special leave petition before the Supreme Court.
In the special leave petition filed before the apex court through advocate Ankur Chawla, Lodha and the others contended that the criminal complaint against them should be quashed as “it had been filed by a person who has no interest in the properties.”
The charges levelled against Gaurishankar and the others were part of the “pressure tactics by the Birlas”, the petition said.