Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Jul 17, 2004
Corporate - Corporate Disputes
New light on line of succession
Kolkata , July 16
EVEN if the will of the late Priyamvada Birla, the widow of M.P. Birla, is proved to be defective and thrown out by the courts, the rest of the Birla clan may not have much to cheer, going by the succession tangle that would inevitably follow, considering the existence of the little known emerging surviving heirs, say informed sources close to the Birlas.
This view is also supported by legal experts some of whom are also saying that the will may not survive close scrutiny as the factor of "undue influence" may be invoked by the challengers, even if it is properly witnessed and executed, as per the provisions of section 111 of Indian Evidence Act, 1972. This section deals with proof of good faith in transactions.
While strategies are being studied by the lawyers' brigade of both the Birla clan and Mr Rajendra S. Lodha over a possible legal battle over the last will and testament of the late widow of M.P. Birla, legal eagles in the know are now throwing some new light on the line of succession, strictly as per the Hindu Succession Act and Principles of Hindu Law.
It is being said authoritatively that, given the known Birla family tree, particularly the Rameshwar Das lineal descent through sons Gajanan and Madhav Prasad Birla, the late Priyamvada Birla and the heirs, and going by the provisions of section 15 and 16 of The Hindu Succession Act, read with the schedule of 8 (Principles of Hindu Law), the closest heirs with a claim to the huge assets could be the two sisters of Gajanan and M.P. Birla, namely, Lakshmi Devi Newar and Radha Mohta, and not Yashovardhan Birla, the great grandson of Gajanan, who is apparently being favoured by all the Birla elders. Sources say all the other Birla factions may not have any locus standi in the matter at all.
Section 15 clearly states that the property of a female Hindu dying intestate shall devolve, as per rules set out in section 16, firstly upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any predeceased son or daughter, and the husband, and secondly, upon the heirs of the husband in this case of M.P. Birla).
According to a veteran civil lawyer, as per the general rules of succession in the case of males, the property of a male Hindu dying intestate shall devolve firstly upon the heirs being relatives specified in Class 1 of the Schedule; if there is no heir of Class 1, then upon the heirs being relatives specified in Class II, and if there is no heir of any of the above two classes, then on the agnates (male line from same ancestor) and lastly on cognates (from a common ancestor) of the deceased.
In the case of M.P. Birla, heirs in Class I, like son, daughter, mother etc are ruled out, but in Class II, after father, appears the brother, who in this case was Gajanan Birla, since deceased. And then it progresses to sisters, who happen to be the two named earlier. And then sister's son, brother's daughter and sister's daughters. Sumitra Devi had a son Madhukar, whose children are Paritosh and Rakshita. And the daughters are Gita Sanghi and Anjali Sahwney.
And after this, to the father's widow and then, to brother's widow, who happens to be the 80-year old Sumitra Devi Birla, surviving second wife of Gajanan. And then the line ends there.
Hence, the sources ask, where does Yashovardhan figure in this scheme of things? Sumitra Devi's son, Madhukar, since deceased, and his son Paritosh, also come into the picture.
In the context of the controversial will, now set to go for probate, experts say that a person is deemed to be in a position to dominate the will of another, "where he holds a real or apparent authority over the other, or where he stands in a fiduciary relation to the other; or where he makes a contract with a person whose mental capacity is temporarily or permanently affected by reason of age, illness or mental or bodily distress."
It is argued that where a person who is in a position to dominate the will of another, entered into a contract with him, then the burden of proving that such contract was not induced by "undue influence" shall lie upon the person in a position to dominate the will of the other, who in this case may be Mr Lodha.
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