labels: m.p. birla, industry - general
Lodha who?news
17 July 2004

The Birlas are questioning whether Priyamvada should have made Lodha the beneficiary of her will. But isn''t it her will anyways? asks Uday Chatterjee

Priyamvada Birla shocked and awed the Birla parivar and the nation by demonstrating that she had a will. And by doing that, she displayed a rare trait for a traditional Indian bahu who is not supposed to have a personality of her own in the first place, let alone a will.

Priyamvada passed away on July 3 and on Monday, July 12 a salient feature of the will was read out to the senior Birlas. That set the cat among the pigeons. The Birla kartas were sent smarting, the Birla bahus cowering, Priyamvada was smirking all the way to heaven and a gentleman named R.S Lodha was laughing all the way to the bank.

Lodha, a rank outsider, has become the sole beneficiary of Priyamvada''s legacy worth over Rs 5,000 crore.

Who Lodha, how Lodha, why Lodha and why not Yashovardhan Birla are the questions now being asked by all and sundry.

The first thing we come to realise about Lodha is that he can be as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. Try to contact him at his office and he is at home. Contact him at his home and he is in office. Contact him simultaneously at office and home and he is perhaps, in New Delhi.

An exasperated google search reveals that he is senior partner of the leading accounting and consulting firm M Lodha & Co which is the Indian member firm of BDO International (the 6th largest international accounting firm having annual billing in excess of US$ 2.2 billion). He is the chairman of BDO Lodha (P) Ltd. and BDO International (P) Ltd.

A past president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce Kolkata and of FICCI, Lodha has served for six years on the central board of the State Bank of India as well as on its executive committee. A gold medalist in his C.A. exams, he has also served as vice president of the Indian Council of Arbitration.

Lodha has also served on the boards of inter alia National Securities Depository Ltd, Tourism Finance Corporation and Oriental Insurance Co Ltd and on SEBI''s committees on Takeover Code Review and on Disclosure in Offer Documents. Besides he is chairman of Alfred Herbert (India) Ltd and co-chairman of Birla Corporation Ltd, the flag ship company of the M.P Birla group.

A protégé of the late M.P.Birla, Lodha was introduced to the M.P. Birla group about twenty years ago. He is also associated with the other Birla group companies and is considered to be a Birla insider though not a family member. And finally, he looks as if he is in his mid fifties.

Following the death of M.P. Birla in 1990, Priyamvada took over the reigns of her husband''s group businesses and charities. She ran the group''s activities with the close help and association of Lodha. As it stands today, Lodha had been the closest confidante and right hand man of Priyamvada.

But why did she will all her assets to a non-family member is a question, which begs an answer. And many are wondering why Yashovardan Birla, the legal heir was left out in the cold. Only Priyamvada knew why.

Priyamvada and her husband were issueless and as per the succession law, Yashovardhan, grand niece of Priyamvada, is the legal heir. According to sources close to the Birlas, Priyamvada wanted the estates of M.P Birla group to remain a separate entity. There was an apprehension that if the estates fell into the hands of another Birla, M.P. and his legacy would be over shadowed. Hence, she chose Lodha and by doing that, ironically the Priyamvada legacy is tending to over shadow M.P''s legacy.

''Foul,'' the other Birlas are crying in unison and the matter will now invariably have to be settled in the courts The joint Birla argument is that M.P had wished that all his money should go to charities. The faction may also pitch in with the argument that Priyamvada was under ''undue influence'' to make this unusual will of which the sole beneficiary is also the executor.

Lodha''s counter argument is silence, silence and more silence. He however, is gearing up for the great battle and a battery of legal eagles have now been appointed by him. On the ''undue influence'' front, it appears that the will was made in 1999 and subsequently, Priyamvada sent scores of letters to Lodha which contain instructions regarding the execution of the will. This should prove that she was in sound mind and not under undue influence.

The moot question now is; whose will and wish is it anyway? M.P''s properties passed on to Priyamvada after his death through his will. Now if M.P had directed in his will that the property should go to charities after Priyamvada, then by law it has to go to charities.

If nothing of the sort is said or even a wish expressing that the properties should go to charities is made in the will, then Priyamvada has the right to do whatever she wanted to do with the properties. She could have even willed the properties to you, I or have them dumped into the Bay of Bengal.

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