The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed three special leave petitions (SLPs) filed by the Birlas, who contested the order of the Division Bench of Calcutta High Court to make public the voting results of the annual general meetings (AGMs) of three MP Birla group companies. In the three companies Harsh V Lodha was reappointed director in two and has been allowed a share in profits in all of them, etc.
The companies in which he has been reappointed director are Vindhya Telelinks and Birla Cable. Lodha is chairman in the third, Birla Corporation.
“We are not inclined to entertain the SLP under Article 136 of the Constitution of India. The SLPs are dismissed,” the Supreme Court said in its order while reiterating that the single-judge Bench (of the Calcutta High Court, which gave the order last year not to publish the results, but the order was overturned by a Division Bench of the same court on May 4) must determine if it had the jurisdiction in the first place.
The apex court also asked the Bench to decide on the applications for interim relief, and give the final determination in a month.
A Birla family spokesperson said: “While the SLP moved before the Supreme Court was not entertained, the court granted protection to the Birlas and directed that the results of the AGMs will be subject to the decision of the single judge.”
The spokesperson added the Supreme Court order had thrown a lifeline to the probate issue, in which the Birlas were contesting the late Priyamvada Devi Birla’s will, which was made in favour of the Lodhas, who control key assets in the MP Birla group.
Debanjan Mandal, legal counsel to Lodha and partner at solicitor firm, Fox & Mandal, said: “This verdict marks a major victory — the second one in a week — in the sustained efforts of these companies to thwart repeated attempts to disrupt their functioning, typically made ahead of their AGM.”
The Birla family spokesperson said the Supreme Court directive enabled the probate court to take another look at the disputed issues of reappointing Lodha and the matters relating his remuneration as director after hearing the companies concerned.
Mandal, however, said no order could be passed by the probate court against third-party companies without deciding the issue of jurisdiction. “Our client has maintained that these companies are not parties to the legal battle over Priyamvada Birla’s will, which is pending at the Calcutta High Court since 2004,” Mandal said.
The Birlas, through the defendants in the suit for probate of the last will of Priyamvada Devi Birla, had last year moved the Calcutta HC and obtained an injunction on declaring the results of polls at the annual general meetings of the three companies.
The resolutions that were disputed and held up included the reappointment of Lodha as director in Vindhya Telelinks and Birla Cable, his remuneration as a share in the profits, and the payment of dividend to shareholders of Birla Corporation.
According to Birla Corporation, the Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court had ruled that the probate court hearing the dispute on the will should have first determined if it had the jurisdiction to impose restrictions on the operations of these companies, and set aside the injunctions passed by the single-judge Bench at the Calcutta High Court.