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Mafatlal socialite wedding's 14-year-old disputed debt to Taj hotels returns to Bombay civil court with Mulla & Mulla

The Mafatlal family, frequently featured in the Mumbai tabloids, has been dragged to court yet again, this time by the Tata-owned group company of Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace hotel for allegedly not settling Atulya and Sheetal Mafatlal’s 14-year-old unpaid wedding party bill.

Atulya, once one of the heirs to the Mumbai industrial family’s empire built on fabric dyeing, is the main defendant in the latest suit filed by Taj Hotels about the 25 February 2000 wedding reception of his marriage to Sheetal. The total of the bill raised for the reception was just under Rs 33 lakhs.

Mulla & Mulla, led by partner YP Dandiwala, is representing the Indian Hotels group, which runs the Taj chain and other properties. Last month, on 21 November 2014, the amended plaint was being served on defendants as directed by the City Civil Court.

The hotel now says that the defendants are jointly and severally liable to pay a sum of just over Rs 30 lakh plus interest calculated at 21 per cent per year.

Atulya commented: “It's nearly a 14-year-old matter. It's nothing but a disputed bill. It's a civil matter which has been going on for years. The hotel had not billed me properly which is the point of my contention. There is nothing more to it.”

Historic

In June 2001, the hotel sent notice to Atulya and the other defendants to pay them the Rs 26 lakhs owed, a combination of nearly Rs 19 Lakhs of the allegedly outstanding balance with interest at 21 per cent per annum.

Of that, a total of Rs 14 lakhs was was cleared by the defending family after repeated requests, according to the plaint, however, the balance has not yet been recovered so the Taj hotels took legal action to recover the rest, with interest, from Atulya.

In 2002 the hotel group had filed the case at the Bombay high court, which eventually transferred it to the City Civil Court.

Defendants galore

Indian Hotels impleaded other members of the Mafatlal family in the suit in a bid to aid recovery.

According to the suit, at the request of the first defendant, Atulya, the plaintiff, Indian Hotels, raised the bills in the name of several Mafatlal companies and now co-defendants - Mafatlal Industries Limited, Mihir Textiles, Novinon Limited and Mafatlal Dyes and Chemicals.

When the hotel first started making requests to the Mafatlal family to clear the dues, Yogendra Mafatlal and the seventh defendant Ajay Mafatlal, who was then Aparna Mafatlal, personally promised to pay the monies to the hotel on behalf of Atulya, the plaint alleges. “Defendant number 7 [Ajay] has also promised to discharge the liability of Defendant number 1 [Atulya]. A part payment of Rs 5 Lakhs has been made by defendant number 4 [Mihir Textiles].”

However, Bhavesh Parmar, the lawyer of defendant 7, Ajay Mafatlal, said that to date the hotel had failed to give Ajay a copy of the unamended plaint as it was filed before the Bombay High Court. Ajay's advocates-on-record are Devmani Shukla and Vijayprasad Yadav.

Ajay also contends that any part-payment made by companies were actually made by him while he was director of two of the defendant companies.

Ajay also contended that the services rendered were to Atulya in his individual capacity and Atulya should therefore take the responsibility to clear the dues and keep the others out of this, particularly since Ajay and his mother had disowned Atulya legally and have nothing to do with his liabilities anymore.

In their response to the hotel’s solicitors, Ajay’s lawyers have written that their client has filed various FIRs as a shareholder of Mafatlal Dyes, claiming that properties of the company were stolen and siphoned off by various persons, including Atulya, and that the hotel must pursue the balance amount from Atulya. Those claims are currently being investigated by the police, according to Ajay.

Meanwhile, Atulya claims that the hotel had inflated the bills and therefore the dues were never cleared.

The late Yogendra and Madhuri Mafatlal’s children are Kunti, Gayatri, Ajay (formerly Aparna), Malvika and Atulya.

Although after the death of patriarch Yogendra Mafatlal, his legal heirs were impleaded as defendants to the suit, Kunti Shah, who is currently in London, said she was shocked to even learn about the new proceedings being initiated. She told Legally India that she has no involvement in the matter and that she had no comments to offer.

Daughter Gayatri Jhaveri said that she would not want to comment as the matter is subjudice.

However, according to one source, Gayatri Jhaveri was never mentioned in Yogendra Mafatlal’s will, so she could not be impleaded.

A legal family

Atulya and socialite wife Sheetal have frequently been in the tabloids for their colourful personal lives, as well as their brush with the courts.

In 2011, Marushka - Atulya's daughter from his first marriage - accused Sheetal of robbing the family of valuable paintings and heirlooms. An FIR was lodged against Sheetal. Sheetal in turn alleged harassment and dragged the family members to court including Madhuri, Ajay, Kunti, Gayatri and Marushka.

Atulya's public apology while signing of consent terms with Sheetal, to drop proceedings drew more hatred  from Madhuri and Ajay. The two went on to disown him publicly by issuing a notice in leading newspaper in 2012. While Atulya, Kunti and Gayatri apologised to Sheetal, Madhuri, Ajay and Gayatri went on to contest the allegations made by Sheetal. They filed petitions in HC for quashing of the FIR against them stating that the allegations made by Sheetal were baseless. Madhuri Mafatlal passed away in 2013 and before that the FIR against her was quashed.

Sheetal, again took everyone by surprise when she filed an FIR against one of her childhood friends Arif Patel and two others alleging that the paintings that she has put in their safe custody were replaced with fakes. The three vehemently contested her allegations and in September this year the Mumbai police gave them a clean chit and going on to prosecute Sheetal in the case for making false allegations. The paintings during investigation were recovered from an office at Princess Street in Mumbai which belonged to Sheetal's own company. Sheetal is still allegedly absconding and may do so indefinitely.

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