MUMBAI Ratan Tata, patriarch of one of India's most prominent business families, played down reports on Friday that he would step down soon as chairman of Tata Trusts, the largest shareholder in the Tata conglomerate's holding company.
In a report, the Times of India cited a Tata aide, R.K. Krishna Kumar, as saying the group was preparing for Tata to step down from the Trusts next year after two decades. It said an external consultant had been asked to advise on the selection process for a successor.
In a statement, Tata Sons said there were "no plans for (Ratan Tata) stepping down from the chairmanship of the Tata Trusts at this point in time." It said it would put in place a process for a "smooth succession at an appropriate time."
Ratan Tata and the charities that make up the Trusts have been at the heart of a public dispute with Cyrus Mistry, who was dismissed as chairman of Tata Sons in October.
Mistry has accused Tata of continuing to control the group's operations through the Trusts, even after retiring as chairman of the holding company in 2012. Tata, 78, rejects those claims.
Two trustees of the Tata Trusts - public charities that own 66 percent of Tata Sons - told Reuters that a change was being considered, but said there was no timeline, and no external adviser had been retained.
Krishna Kumar told Reuters that talk about succession began before the current row with Mistry, adding there was "no question of an external firm being consulted."
V. R. Mehta, a trustee on the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, one of several Trusts, also played down talk of Tata's departure, calling it "fairly premature".
"Although succession planning has long been on the table, the trustees have not had any meetings to discuss the hiring of any external firm," he said.
Tata Sons has called for extraordinary shareholder meetings at over half a dozen Tata companies to dismiss Mistry as a director. Several shareholder meetings are due next week.
Shareholders of Indian Hotels Co, parent of Taj luxury hotels, are set to vote on Mistry's ouster on Tuesday, while similar votes are scheduled at Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata Chemicals and Tata Power Co on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Dec. 26, respectively.
Earlier this week, shareholders in Tata Consultancy Services, the conglomerate's most valuable company, voted to remove Mistry from its board.
(Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)