CHANDER SUTA DOGRA
Even as the Congress party and the Haryana government insist Robert Vadra’s real estate dealings in the State are private transactions that did not involve any illegality, new evidence indicates that the businessman — who is also Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law — was provided access to a web of politically-connected property developers that went out of its way to help him build his realty empire.
It all began with Satyanand Yajee, who, together with Godavari Yajee, owns Onkareshwar Properties Pvt. Ltd, which sold Mr. Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality 3.5 acres in Shikohpur village in Gurgaon in March 2008 — his first known foray into the real estate business.
Mr. Satyanand Yajee, as first reported by Business Standard, has strong links to Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda as well as Venod Sharma, the State’s former Power Minister who was forced to resign following allegations that he tried to bribe a witness in the Jessica Lal murder case, for which his son Manu Sharma, now stands convicted. His second son Kartikeya Sharma heads Information TV Pvt. Ltd., which has recently acquired control of the News X television channel, in addition to his existing Haryana-based media house, the Aaj Samaj group and Good Morning India Media Pvt. Ltd.
Mr. Satyanand Yajee helped Mr. Vadra by not presenting cheque no. 607251 dated February 9, 2008, drawn by his company, Sky Light Hospitality, on Corporation Bank for Rs. 7.5 crore, which is mentioned in the sale deed registered on February 12, 2008. As earlier reported in The Hindu, though the amount is shown as an overdraft in Sky Light’s balance sheet, Corporation Bank has clarified that it did not give the company an overdraft. With the stamp duty of Rs. 45,00,000 the total land cost came to Rs. 7.9 crore. This amount is reflected in the 2008 balance sheets of Onkareshwar Properties as ‘sundry debtor’. However, revenue officials point out that since the payment for the land was not received through the cheque mentioned in the sale deed, it would fall foul of Section 82 of the Registration Act, 1908 since the payment of Rs. 7.5 crore was not completed between vendor and vendee, and would ordinarily invite penalty under the Act.
However, Mr. Satyanand Yajee is no ordinary businessman and he did not complain about the unusual cheque. As the general secretary of the All India Freedom Fighters Organisation (AIFFO), he is in-charge of constructing and maintaining a memorial for Chief Minister Hooda’s father Chaudhary Ranbir Singh in Rohtak. Mr. Hooda and Mr. Satyanand Yajee are also office-bearers of the All India Freedom Fighters Successors Organisation, both being sons of prominent freedom fighters Chaudhary Ranbir Chaudhary and Sheel Bhadra Yajee respectively.
On 15 July 2009, the Haryana government allotted a site of 2.5 acres in the green belt of Rohtak’s Industrial Model Township (IMT) on NH 8 at a concessional rate of Rs 50,000/ acre to the AIFFO, for the memorial. As the organisation’s general secretary, Mr. Satyanand Yajee is the point man for the project, and it is common knowledge in Rohtak that the man has the Chief Minister’s ear.
On 11 April 2008, one month after Mr. Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality was given a letter of intent to develop his land in Shikohpur (on 28 March 2008) a consortium of five companies that includes Mr. Satyanand Yajee’s Onkareshwar Properties and Mark Buildtech owned by Mr. Kartikeya Sharma were given a licence for group housing on 19.362 acres in the same village. Curiously, the address given by Mark Buildtech (Flat No 714, Hemkunt Chambers 89, Nehru Place, New Delhi) is the same as that given by Onkareshwar Properties in its sale deed 12/2/2008 through which it sold the Shikohpur land to Mr. Vadra. The two companies also have at least three common directors who have entered and exited the two companies at different times.
At around the same time, in March and May 2008, Mark Buildtech was granted two separate commercial zone licences for 6.1 acres in adjoining Sihi village. This is in addition to two commercial zone licences granted to Mr. Venod Sharma’s flagship Piccadilly Hotels Pvt Ltd in 2007 on 6.3 acres in Kherki Daula, in the same vicinity. According to the 2009 and 2010 balance sheets of Onkareshwar properties, the company has invested in shares of Good Morning India Pvt. Ltd and Information TV Pvt. Ltd. This is very similar to the investment pattern seen in the balance sheets of Mark Buildtech, which has also bought shares of its sister media companies. Both Mr. Kartikeya Sharma and Mr. Satyanand Yajee did not respond to calls made to their respective telephone numbers, till the filing of this report.
Onkareshwar Properties was incorporated in 2004 with a paid up capital of Rs. one lakh; the company was purchased the next year by Anil and Gautam Bhalla of Vatika Ltd. Mr. Satyanand Yajee became a director on February 18th, 2008 and since then the company’s balance sheets registered a sharp growth. In 2009, it showed profits of Rs. 43 crore. In the same year, it invested Rs. 3 crore in Kartikeya’s media companies and Rs. 25 crore the following year. Its balance sheets also show that the company has maintained its business links with the Vatika group as it regularly takes advances against sale of land from Vatika Ltd. Mark Buildtech also has a similar relationship with Vatika Ltd, according to the balance sheets.
In May 2009, Khurshid Ahmed, another prominent Congress politician of Haryana’s Mewat region, stepped in to sell Mr. Vadra’s Real Earth Estates Pvt. Ltd, approximately 18 acres of his family land in Shakarpuri village of Ferozepur Jhirka. The buzz in Mewat is that Mr. Ahmed’s son, Aftab, who is now the Congress legislator from Nuh, was given the party ticket in the October 2009 elections as a return favour. Aftab, too, did not respond to calls on his cellphone from The Hindu. In nearby Tigaon constituency, Lalit Nagar, brother of Mahesh Nagar, the executor for most of Mr. Vadra’s land deals in Rajasthan and some in Haryana, was also given the Congress ticket. Says Krishan Pal Gujjar, State BJP president and legislator from Tigaon, “The Nagars were a family of modest means till they struck rich by becoming middlemen for land deals. Robert Vadra was one of those serviced by them. J.P. Nagar [not from the same family] has been representing this constituency from the Congress earlier.”
At around the same time, several prominent builders also received substantial concessions on the 10 per cent component for low cost housing that they are supposed to develop in their schemes.
Roughly a month before the announcement of Assembly elections, on 14th July, at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Hooda and attended by top realtors, it was decided that as a “one-time relaxation,” all those builders who apply for Group Housing Colony as part of their plotted colony by 15th July 2009 (the next day) “will be allowed to avail the benefit of 10 per cent of the colony area in lieu of 10 per cent area reserved for low cost housing in that particular sector,” according to the minutes of the meeting. This would enable them to build an additional four large flats per acre. The issue was raised in the meeting by Vatika Ltd and among the others who were present that day were representatives of DLF, Unitech, Ansals, Suncity Projects, Emaar MGF, Bestech Ltd, Raheja Developers Ltd, TDI ltd, Countrywide Promoters BPTP and Omaxe Ltd.
Following the political uproar after the October 16 expose in The Hindu about the sudden transfer of Haryana’s Inspector-General of Registration Ashok Khemka after he initiated inquiries into Mr. Vadra’s land deals, the government formed a three-member committee headed by an additional chief secretary to look into the matter.
Within nine days, the government announced that according to the reports sent by the deputy commissioners of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Palwal and Mewat, no undervaluation has been recorded in any land deal by Mr. Vadra’s companies and that there has been no revenue loss to the government. The government’s widely circulated press release forwarded the ‘conclusion’ arrived at by the sub-registrars regarding the valuation of properties. But some in the Haryana bureaucracy have asked how the tehsildars could have implicated themselves by arriving at a different conclusion that there was undervaluation. “Undervaluation can only be assessed by examining the nature of land use which is licensed by the Department of Town and Country Planning, as the value is embedded in the land use, There is an apparent conflict of interest in tasking the tehsildars to give to themselves a clean chit,” said a top revenue officer on condition of anonymity.