In a major setback to Harsh Vardhan Lodha, the Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered his removal from all position in the Rs 25,000 crore MP Birla Group and its associated entities with immediate effect. Lodha, who is the chairman of MP Birla Group companies, has also been barred from drawing any benefit from the assets of Birla Estate.
Lodha has been locked in a 16-year-old legal battle over Priyamvada Birla's will to retain control of cement maker Birla Corp. The court decision will provide respite to the extended Birla family which has contested the legal validity of Priyamvada Birla's will. In the will, Priyamvada Birla bestowed her estate and control of the (now) MP Birla empire to her chartered accountant R.S. Lodha and his second son Harsh Vardhan Lodha.
The court order means that Lodha ceases to hold all positions in the MP Birla Group, including his role as director on the boards of MP Birla companies, listed entities Vindhya Telelinks Ltd, Birla Cables Ltd and Universal Cables Ltd.
Earlier in May this year, a two-judge division bench of the Calcutta High Court had allowed Lodha's reinstatement as director by rotation in group companies Vindhya Telelinks and Birla Cable, if the shareholders approve it, and also pay dividends to the shareholders of Birla Corporation and Vindhya Telelinks.
In another victory for the Lodhas, the court had also set aside the August 9, 2019 ruling of a single HC judge who prevented these companies from publishing the voting results of the last AGMs.
The Birla family had challenged his appointment in the Supreme Court, but their petition was rejected and the case was redirected to the high court.
The genesis of decade old legal battle between the MP Birla Group companies represented by Newar and the Lodhas lies in the contested will of late Priyamvada Devi Birla, the widow of MP Birla, which was executed in July 1982 after the purported will allegedly transferred the shares of the MP Birla Group, collectively called as the Birla Estate, in favour of the Rajendra Singh Lodha.
The legal tussle began after the July 13, 1982 mutual wills that gave away all the assets to charities but another will dated April 18, 1999 gave them to Rajendra Lodha, now being pursued by his son Harsh Lodha, and other heirs of the senior Lodha.
The legal battle got a new twist in July 2019 when in a 2:1 order on July 30, 2019 the Calcutta HC-appointed three-member administrator's committee (APL panel) headed by retired Bombay HC judge Mohit Shah opposed the board decision of the three listed MP Birla Group companies to re-appoint Harsh Lodha as non-executive chairman.