Lodha chairs Birla Corp. meeting amid high drama outside

Tuesday, 20 July 2004, 07:00 Hrs
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KOLKATA: R.S. Lodha chaired the first board meeting of Birla Corp. here Tuesday after claiming inheritance to the 50-billion M.P. Birla group with none of its nine board of directors opposing his presence.

The board of the group's flagship company met at a five-star hotel for the first time after the group's head Priyamvada Birla died July 3 and reportedly willed its assets to Lodha, the company co-chair not related to any of the Birla families.

Lodha, who tried his best to avoid reporters, only said: "I chaired the meeting. Whatever happened in the meeting was for the good of the company."

He did not answer questions on his inheritance that is being challenged by the Birla family.

Vikram Swarup, one of the directors of Birla Corp, told reporters that "the three-four issues that came up for discussions were not opposed".

He said no one opposed Lodha's chairing the meeting held at a city hotel and not at the company's headquarters in Birla Building.

Officially, the board was to have discussed the result of the first quarter, but it was widely speculated that it could also formally elect Lodha as the company's chairman.

But neither Lodha nor Swarup replied when asked if a chairman had been elected.

Commotion broke out at the meeting venue when hotel staff escorted Lodha and the other directors out.

The hotel staff pushed back reporters, cameramen and photographers who scampered to get Lodha's comments. A scuffle broke out as well.

Some cameramen even squatted in front of Lodha's car and prevented him from leaving.

Lodha's inheritance of the M.P. Birla group fortunes is being challenged by the Birlas, who have said they were "very surprised" with Priyamvada's will because she had expressed her wish to transfer all her wealth to a charitable trust.

Lodha Monday moved Calcutta High Court to probate, or legally authenticate, Priyamvada's will that was registered in Kolkata in 1999. The Birlas, who have filed two caveats, have said they would challenge it.

M.P. Birla and Priyamvada did not have any children, but the Birla family had expected Priyamvada to pass on the group's reins to their nephew's son Yashovardhan Birla or bequeath it all to a charitable trust.

Lodha, a top chartered accountant, came to be associated with the group as an advisor about two decades ago. He became close to M.P. Birla and after the latter death won the confidence of Priyamvada as well.

He was later made the group's co-chairman and was part of every major decision.

Source: IANS
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