At the root of the controversy
Birla Corporation had a humdrum existence till the purported will of Priyamvada Birla catapulted it to enthralled public attention, with all its attendant accusations of fraud, malfeasance and misconduct.
This marked the first time this reserved and storied business family, with links to the freedom movement, had faced a controversy of this nature. It certainly stirred Kolkata's somnolent business world.
In contention were the assets of a jute and cement manufacturer, a modest performer.
The reason it set the dovecotes aflutter at Birla House is that Priyamvada Birla, widow of Birla Corporation promoter Madhav Prasad (grand uncle to Kumar Mangalam Birla of the Aditya Birla Group, probably the best-known Birla today) had bequeathed her estate, believed to be around Rs 5,000 crore, to well-known Kolkata-based chartered accountant, Rajendra Singh Lodha in July 2004.
Lodha also happened to be the sole executor of the will, allegedly written in 1999.
The drama began a few days after Priyamvada's death when Lodha appeared at Birla Park, the Birla family residential complex in Gurusaday Road, south Kolkata, to read the contents of the will.
Three generations of Birlas were present: Madhav Prasad's cousins Basant Kumar Birla (Kumar Mangalam's grandfather) and Krishna Kumar Birla (now late), nephews Sudarshan Kumar and Chandrakant and grand nephews Sidharth Birla (also Sudarshan's son) and Yashovardhan Birla.
Madhav Prasad and Priyamvada had no children, so all of them expected charitable trusts to inherit the estate.
The explosive will was, apparently, read out "blandly". As it turned out, to the utter disbelief of some, Lodha, a rank outsider, was also the beneficiary of the will.
He left shortly after reading it but the battle lines were drawn. The Birla family decided to challenge this alleged will.
Text: Ishita Ayan Dutt, Business Standard
Image: Madhav Prasad Birla, the founder chairman of the MP Birla Group and his wife Priyamvada Birla.
Images courtesy: Birla Corporation, MP Birla School