Kolkata: The scene seems set for a battle over jute baron Arun Kumar Bajoria’s estate, worth a few thousand crores of rupees by some estimates, with his cousin claiming “minority interest” in some of his businesses—a claim contested by his daughters.
Bajoria, the head of one of the city’s old Marwari families, shot to fame in 1998 for being a key witness in the Enforcement Directorate’s case against media magnate Ashok Jain for alleged violation of foreign exchange regulations, and later in 2000 for piling up a 13% stake in Nusli Wadia-controlled Bombay Dyeing and Manufacturing Co. Ltd (he eventually sold this).
Bajoria died in Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital on 28 March and did not leave behind a will. He is survived by his mother, wife and four daughters.
Bajoria’s estate includes 10 jute mills, real estate across the country, and investments such as shares in several firms.
His cousin Sanjay Bajoria, who has been managing most of the businesses in the group (Arun Bajoria was ailing for some time), said he and a few other members of the extended Bajoria family have a “minority interest in some jute mills and properties”.
Prime property: The group’s 80,000 sq. ft mall in central Kolkata. The real value of Bajoria’s estate could lie in real estate and stocks. (Indranil Bhoumik / Mint )
However, Bajoria’s daughters claim no one, apart from them, their mother and their grandmother (Bajoria’s mother) have any stake in the assets. “The empire that he has left behind is to be divided among his four daughters, wife and mother. No one else has right to any of his properties or businesses. It’s all very simple...,” Arun Bajoria’s daughter, Pooja Jalan, told Mint over the phone.
“Our interests will be protected by the elders in our family... No one is losing sleep on what Pooja or others might have told you. I think people with vested interest are trying to malign our family,” said Sanjay Bajoria, responding to Jalan’s claim.
Although both sides deny any differences within the family, the cracks are beginning to show. Sanjay Bajoria, 45, performed the last rites for Bajoria in keeping with Hindu tradition because the latter had no son. Till recently, he was in charge of the group’s flagship firm, The Hooghly Mills Co. Ltd. However, people in the company familiar with the matter and who do not wish to be identified said that he was asked to leave “for staking his claim” and replaced by a 65-year-old former executive of the company, R.S. Poddar.
Sanjay Bajoria denied he was ousted although he admitted he was temporarily not involved with the company and said he was the person responsible for Poddar’s return to the group.
“You could say I have taken a two-month sabbatical because seniors in the family felt that was the right thing to do. Arunbabu’s daughters and their husbands need to get a hang of the business—they might not have liked my interference, or I wouldn’t have liked theirs,” he added. “I continue to guide Lata-bhabi (Arun Kumar Bajoria’s wife Lata Devi Bajoria) and Arunbabu’s daughters in running the business.”
Sanjay Bajoria claimed that he had taken the initiative in having the entire family consult with Kolkata law firm, Khaitan and Co., to “restructure the ownership of the group’s various businesses and distribute them among the successors”.
Jalan initially denied that the family had consulted Khaitan and Co. but later retracted her statement and said the family did not wish to comment on the subject.
The absence of a will complicates matters, although Jalan said that “we know what he (Arun Bajoria) wanted—it was very clearly indicated to us.”
Mint couldn’t ascertain what documents Sanjay Bajoria has to assert his minority interest in the estate or part of it.
“These are family matters... You have no business to ask about them. But, let me tell you, we Marwaris honour agreements and commitments made by elders in our family... There is no question of establishing our claims—nobody is disputing them...,” Sanjay Bajoria said.
Although jute, once considered a business without a future, has turned profitable again, the real value of Bajoria’s estate is likely in real estate and stocks.
The group has built an 80,000 sq. ft mall in central Kolkata and announced plans to build a township at a cost of Rs500 crore on the river front in south Kolkata. Real estate was a natural extension for the group because it owns large tracts of land.
The group also ran a vibrant investment and financing business through several firms such as Mega Stock and Mega Resources. According to some stockbrokers who used to deal with Arun Bajoria, and who do not wish to be identified, the group has cash and cash-equivalent assets worth at least Rs500 crore, “despite the recent market meltdown”.
In Accel Frontline Ltd, for instance, Mega Resources has a stake of 13.71%, worth Rs26.64 crore. In Kanoria Chemicals and Industries Ltd, the firm holds 6.08%, worth Rs11.50 crore. In at least 12 other listed firms, Mega Resources owns more than 1%.