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Lodha files for probate; Birlas to contest

Our Bureau

Kolkata , July 19

MR Rajendra S. Lodha - the sole beneficiary of the Rs 5,580-crore assets of the late Priyamvada Birla, widow of M.P. Birla, as per her last will and testament - on Monday filed an application for obtaining a probate of the controversial will at the Calcutta High Court. And with this, the first step towards authenticating the contents of the will has been taken by the Lodhas.

It is, however, not known at this stage whether a certified copy of the will has been given to the Birlas, as asked for by the latter.

The probate application (PLA 204 of 2004) was filed by the solicitors firm Fox & Mandal. Informed sources said the matter will appear in the list after due scrutiny of the application by the department concerned of the High Court. After preliminary vetting, the application will be moved to the insolvency section of the High Court, which is actually the caveat section.

Asked why the probate application process was moved out of the Alipore Courts, sources said since the relevant assets, as per the will, are split throughout West Bengal, the matter had to go to the High Court, which alone had the overall jurisdiction. The Court of the Sub-Judge and the District Judge (Alipore), it is learnt, cannot take up wills covering assets totalling more than Rs 60,000.

It is learnt that the Oath Commissioner of the High Court personally went to the offices of the Lodhas to get the necessary affidavits signed.

Addressing an impromptu press conference here on Monday, Mr Debanjan Mandal, partner, Fox & Mandal, the solicitors representing Mr Lodha, read a short statement that said that the probate would be effective all over the country. An affidavit of assets was attached with the probate.

According to him, the will of the late Priyamvada Birla was a registered document, dating back to 1999. It was registered in Kolkata. When asked whether the document would now be taken over by the law firm for safe custody, he said: "We cannot say anything on this matter." The statement issued by the law firm maintained that Mr Lodha was the executor of Priyamvada Birla's will. It did not say anything on Mr Lodha's claims on inheriting her property, including companies such as Birla Corporation.

"If the Birlas or anyone else challenge it in court, we will certainly contest it," Mr Mandal said, adding that a number of legal issues would have to be addressed by his client. "There are quite a few options before us. However, we cannot elaborate any further," he said.

Meanwhile, a note issued on behalf of the Birla family said that the Birlas would contest the grant of probate and that they would remain committed in their "resolve to protect and secure" the estate of the M.P. Birla group for charity. The Birlas have appointed Mr N.G. Khaitan of Khaitan & Co as their legal advisor.

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