Parasmal Lodha: A man best known for Peerless takeover attempt
Parasmal Lodha launched an aggressive attempt to take over Peerless General Investment and Finance Company - the country’s largest non-banking financial institution - in 1991, the year best remembered for the unveiling of economic reforms by then finance minister Manmohan Singh.
With regular training, Lodha, who is just about five feet tall and stockily built, could have been a pugilist. But the man with a slim moustache under a prominent nose, who always sat comfortably reclining in his chair sporting a faint smile, chose to display his aggression only in the world of business.
It was said that Lodha had interests in real estate, mostly in the central business district of Dalhousie area and tea gardens. He swore by corporate governance but revealed almost nothing of his own activities.
“My interests lie mostly in real estate and dealing in companies,” he said with an affable smile.
When he uncorked an attack on Peerless, he immediately hit the headlines. Peerless was trusted by millions with their hard earned savings in the country, especially in Bengal, and it had a cash chest of close to Rs 1,500 crore and growing -- quite a pile during those times.
Lodha claimed he held 22% of the shares of Peerless and he wanted control of the company that lined up expansion plans into hotels, tourism, housing and building materials.
Prasanta Chandra Sen, who was then the chairperson and managing director of the company, went all out to defend the attack and a bitter battle followed.
When news of his arrest from Mumbai spread on Thursday, members of the business community in Kolkata could hardly remember when was the last time he was seen in parties or socialising. Some said he shifted his base to Delhi, where the real estate market was more lucrative, a few years ago.
Lodha was nabbed by income tax (I-T) department and Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials for converting Rs 25 crore in scrapped banknotes to the new currency.
Lodha used to tell journalists how grossly mismanaged Peerless, set up in 1932 in Bangladesh’s Narayanganj, was and how he could bring it back on track. He alleged that Peerless window dressed the statement of accounts and gave out loans to entities who would never return the money.
His opponents painted him as a man who would stop at nothing to achieve his objective. In the early nineties, Sen even alleged that he hired hitmen to eliminate him. Lodha was questioned by the police but let off.
Lodha had cash and he was known to be a lender in the inter-corporate deposit market. Apparently, he still retains a sizeable share in Peerless.
Controversy regularly dogged him. After the March, 2010 fire at Stephen House that killed more than 40 people, the word spread that Lodha was behind building the fifth and sixth floors of the building circumventing the law.
But he denied it with his usual composure.