Basant Kumar Birla, a doyen of Indian industry and the grand old man of the old economy, who played a key role in a slew of business initiatives and in creating several educational institutions of repute, passed away in Mumbai on Wednesday at the age of 98, his family said. He had been suffering from age-related ailments.
Birla was the chairman of Century Textiles and Industries and had been active in business since the age of 15. His vision and clear thinking can best be gauged from the fact that he not only authored his succession plan but also made it public during his lifetime putting to rest months of speculation which gained momentum after his son Aditya Vikram Birla’s death. He had also handed over the responsibilities of the educational institutions, temples and several spiritual hermitage as well as sprawling bungalows spread across the country to family members.
He is survived by his daughters Manjushree Khaitan and Jayshree Mohta, who run Kesoram Industries and Jayshree Tea and Industries, respectively. His wife Sarala Birla predeceased him in 2015. His only son Aditya Vikram Birla had died in 1995.
Birla’s body will be brought to his house at Birla Park in Kolkata and the cremation will take place on Thursday. His grandson Kumar Mangalam Birla had taken him to Mumbai due to failing health.
The seat of the Birla brothers in Kolkata — Birla Building — will remain closed on Thursday as a mark of respect. Born in 1921, Birla was the youngest son of philanthropist Ghanshyam Das Birla. By the time he was 15, he was already actively associated with a large number of companies and eventually became the chairman of Kesoram Industries.
He focused on industries such as cotton, viscose, polyester and nylon yarns, refractory, paper, shipping, tyrecord, transparent paper, spun pipe, cement, tea, coffee, cardamom, chemicals, plywood and MDF board. The BK Birla group comprises Century Textiles, Century Enka and Jayshree Tea and Industries besides Kesoram Industries.
Birla was also the chairman of the Krishnarpan Charity Trust, which runs an engineering college named BK Birla Institute of Engineering and Technology at Pilani, Rajashthan, and a patron of 25 educational institutions across the country.