HC dismisses contempt petitions against Harsh Vardhan Lodha

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Kolkata, Apr 22 (PTI) The Calcutta High Court Thursday dismissed several contempt applications against Harsh Vardhan Lodha for continuing as a director and the chairman in companies of the M P Birla Group.

The companies are Birla Corporation Ltd, Universal Cables Ltd, Vindhya Telelinks Ltd and Birla Cable Ltd.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice T B N Radhakrishnan and Justice Shampa Sarkar also dismissed contempt proceedings against other directors of the companies in view of findings of the court that Lodha has not committed contempt by attending board meetings as director/chairman of the company.

The bench observed that Lodha's participation in the board meetings 'cannot be termed as contumacious violation of the order of this court as willful disobedience has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.' 'There is a possibility that he could continue to hold office on the strength of the votes of public shareholders in exclusion to the votes of the APL (Administrators Pendente Lite) Committee and the promoter and promoter groups and PACs (persons acting in concert),' the court said.

An APL is appointed by a court to begin probate proceedings during a lawsuit that challenges the will.

Lodha's advocate Debanjan Mandal said that the verdict clears the decks for Lodha to continue as the chairman of all companies of the M P Birla Group.

The contempt petitions were filed by the Birlas alleging willful violation of an order of this division bench passed on October 1 last year.

In that order, the division bench had declined to pass an interim stay on a single bench judgment over administering the Priyamvada Devi Birla Estate by a court-appointed committee to majority decision, while clarifying parts of the order under challenge.

In the contempt applications, Lodha's participation in the board meetings of these companies as the director/chairman were alleged to be contumacious.

The allegations were primarily against Lodha and consequently against the directors of the companies who allegedly aided and abetted him in committing the contempt.

The Birlas and the Lodha family are embroiled in a litany of court proceedings over the M P Birla Group's assets.

The high court is hearing a probate application by Harsh Vardhan, whose late father RS Lodha had claimed that Priyamvada Devi Birla bequeathed her estate, comprising the MP Birla Group, to him through a will.

The Birlas, one of the oldest industrial groups in the country, have challenged the probate application by RS Lodha family and they have been involved in a legal battle over the control of the MP Birla Group since the death of Priyamvada Devi Birla in 2004.

Priyamvada Devi Birla's husband MP Birla died in 1990.