Robert Vadra's Midas touch is based on inside info

Vivek Kaul
Robert Vadra is a lucky man. A very lucky man indeed.
People sell land to him and do not demand money in exchange immediately. This is not money running into a few thousands or a few lakhs, but it’s more than a few crore.
In today’s edition of Business Standard N Sundaresha Subramanian explains how it all started for Vadra. How the son-in-law of the first family of Indian politics got into buying and selling land.
Onkareshwar Properties sold 3.5 acres of land in Shikhopur near Manesar to Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality sometime in February 2008(as an earlier report in The Hindu suggested). Sky Light Hospitality as on March 31, 2008 had an issued capital of Rs 1 lakh. This was the money Vadra and his mother Maureen (who owned 0.2% of the company) had put into the company for business. The company had not taken any loans.
So the question is how did a company with Rs 1 lakh capital buy 3.5 acres of land? The sale deed for this land showed that it was bought by Sky Light Hospitality for Rs 7.5 crore. So how did a company which had Rs 1 lakh capital buy a piece of land which cost Rs 7.5 crore without taking on any loan?
Sky Light Hospitality’s balance sheet as on March 31, 2008 shows a book overdraft of Rs 7.94 crore in Corporation Bank Friends Colony, New Delhi. This basically means that a cheque was issued without enough funds being available in Sky Light Hospitality’s accounts. The cost of the land was Rs 7.5 crore. With a 6% stamp duty, the total would have worked out to Rs 7.95 crore (Rs 7.5 crore + 6% of Rs 7.5crore). And that is more or less the entry that sits on Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality.
The question is how can a company issue a cheque without there being enough money in its accounts? This can only happen if the individual/company in whose name the cheque is being issued agrees not to deposit the cheque immediately.
And that’s what precisely seems to have happened in this case. As the Business Standard points out “Onkareshwar’s balance sheet as on March 31, 2008, showed an entry of Rs 7.95 crore under ‘sundry debtors’. This corresponds to the entry of Rs 7.94 crore book overdraft entered in Sky Light’s books.” So what this means is that Onkarshwar sold the land, accepted the cheque, did not deposit it immediately and also paid for the stamp duty in the meanwhile.
Vadra took this land and sold it to DLF sometime in June 2008. DLF valued this land for Rs 58 crore and gave Vadra an advance of Rs 50 crore against it. Vadra basically used this Rs 50 crore to go on a property buying spree in Haryana and Rajasthan. What this also meant was that Vadra bought land for Rs 7.5 crore and sold it for Rs 58 crore. And in the process made a profit of Rs 50.5 crore. All along he had invested only Rs 1 lakh of his own money in the deal.
Vadra got the advance of Rs 50 crore in three installments an earlier story in The Financial Express pointed out. The first of these instalments was paid on June 3, 2008, The Hindu had pointed out. It was this money that Vadra would have used to pay off Onkareshwar Properties. So what this means that Onkareshwar sold the property to Vadra in February 2008 and waited till June 2008 to be paid. That was a very considerate transaction in this day and age where every real estate company wants the money in advance.
A clear link has also started to emerge that the Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda may also have had a role to play in facilitating the deal between Onkareshwar and Vadra’s Sky Light Properties.
Satyanand Yajee owns 98% of Onkareshwar Properties. He is the general secretary of the All India Freedom Fighters Organisation (AIFFO), the Business Standard points out. “Satyanand Yajee, who turned Onkareshwar Properties, a company with capital of Rs 1 lakh, into a Rs 136-crore capital base behemoth, isn’t an obscure figure. He is an office bearer of the Delhi-based All India Freedom Fighters Organisation (AIFFO)…Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, too, has strong ties to this organisation. Before his death in 2009, Ranbir Singh, Hooda’s father, was working president of AIFFO. And, Hooda is a founder-member and working president of AIFFO’s sister body, All India Freedom Fighters’ Successors’ Organisation(AIFFSO), according to his profile in the Haryana Vidhan Sabha website,” the paper writes.
And the link doesn’t end there. “Both Hooda and Yajee are sons of freedom fighters. While Satyanand’s father, the late Sheel Bhadra Yajee, hailed from Bihar and was said to be close to Subhash Chandra Bose, Ranbir Singh hailed from Rohtak and was irrigation minister of Punjab when the iconic Bhakra Nangal project was implemented. On a website in honour of Sheel Bhadra Yajee, the chief minister, with his father and son, Deepender Hooda, is quoted showering praises. Recently, AIFFO had spent lakhs of rupees in full-page advertisements praising Ranbir Singh’s contributions to the freedom struggle. ,” the Business Standard points out.
Given this it is not surprising that the Haryana government was in a hurry to give Vadra a clean chit on his property dealings in the state. Vadra’s real estate empire started with more than a little help from Hooda.
A part of the money that Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality got from DLF was also used to buy plots of lands in Bikaner, as a DNA story reported a few days back. “In a flurry of deals between June 2009 and August 2011, Robert Vadra purchased at least 20 plots of land collectively measuring more than 770 hectares in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district, in a region that would see prices spiraling soon after. A clutch of investors, including Vadra, apparently privy to information on upcoming industrial projects (the Vavasi silicon chip project and the solar parks policy) in the vicinity, reaped huge profits with land values appreciating by up to 40 times since 2009,” the story pointed out.
In fact Vadra was willing to pay Rs 65,000 per hectare of land when the going rate was not more than Rs 30,000 a hectare. As the DNA wrote “Bikaner businessman and land investor Vineet Asopa, who sold among the largest plots to Vadra, was so surprised at the ease with which he demanded and received Rs65,000 a hectare when local prices were no more than Rs30,000 a hectare that he summoned contractors for an overnight survey of whether the land was rich in minerals.They dug 80 feet deep, found only rocky surface, and Asopa went ahead with the deal. He found out only two months later that the purchaser was Vadra, whose signature was on the cheques.”
This would not have happened unless Vadra was privy to information about the industrial projects coming up on the aird land he had been buying up. And this needed more than a little help from the government.
Ashutosh Varshney in a column in The Indian Express equates Vadra’s strategy of buying up land before anyone else does, to an honest graft. He quotes George W Plunkitt, a US state senator in the state of New York, in the late 1800s. “In a famous passage, George W. Plunkitt…said the following: “Everybody is talking these days about Tammany men growing rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawing the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft… Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft — blackmailing gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc… There’s an honest graft… Let me explain by examples. My party’s in power in the city, and it’s going to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I’m tipped off, say, that they’re going to lay out a new park at a certain place. I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighbourhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particularly for before… Or supposing it’s a new bridge they’re going to build. I get tipped off and I buy as much property as I can that has to be taken for approaches. I sell at my own price later on and drop some more money in the bank… Wouldn’t you?” (William L. Riordan, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall).”
That’s what Vadra is doing as well. His mother in law’s party is in power. He is tipped off about a new project coming up in states the Congress party rules. He just happens to be buy land before anyone else does being privy to information. And once the information is made public the price of the land goes up many times over in the months and years to come, and he sells out. Wouldn’t you, dear reader, be doing the same thing, assuming you were privy to  information like Vadra is?
The article originally appeared on on October 27,2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

Vadragate: Stench of funny business gets stronger

Vivek Kaul
Salman Khurshid must be a relieved man today. Robert Vadra is back in the news. And this has happened thanks to three good stories that have appeared today in The Hindu, Business Standard and Financial Express. Read together these stories throw up some several interesting questions that need to be answered.
a) How did a land bought at Rs 7.5 crore rise in value to Rs 58 crore in a very short period of 65 days? At the heart of the DLF-Vadra controversy is 3.5 acres of land which was bought by Sky Light Hospitality Private Ltd a company in which Vadra owns 99.8% stake. Sky Light Hospitality bought this piece of land in Manesar, Gurgaon for Rs 15.38 crore (as per its balance sheet) and sold it to DLF for Rs 58 crore pretty soon. DLF gave an advance of Rs 50 crore to Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality against this sale. Sky Light Hospitality used this money received from DLF to buy a slew of flats from DLF and land plots in Haryana and Rajasthan. The company also parked a part of this interest free money in bank fixed deposits and earned an interest on it. And it also gave loans and advances to other Vadra owned companies.
The Hindu points out that this plot of land was bought by Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality as on February 12, 2008, and mutated in its favour the very next day. Mutation refers to the recording in the revenue record of transfer of title of the property from one person to other.
“A little more than a month later, on March 28, 2008, the Town and Country Planning Department issued Mr. Vadra’s company a licence to develop 2.701 acres of the land into a housing colony. ….the enquiry found that Mr. Vadra had “entered into an agreement to sell within 65 days of the issue of the first licence.” By October 2009, he had received Rs. 50 crore out of the total sale consideration, the first instalment of which was made on June 3, 2008,” The Hindu points out.
So what this means is that Vadra went to DLF within 65 days of having got the necessary clearances from the Town and Country Planning Department of the Haryana government. What is interesting that The Hindu says that “the sale deed of this land shows that it was bought by Sky Light Hospitality for Rs. 7.5 crore”.
The balance sheets of Sky Light Hospitality as on March 31, 2009, March 31, 2010 and March 31, 2011, put the cost of this land at Rs 15.38 crore.
DLF valued this 3.5 acres of land at Rs 58 crore. What had changed in a period of 65 days that led to the company giving the land such high value vis a vis the price Vadra’s Sky Light had bought it at? “Haryana officials familiar with the deal say that the sequence of transactions — in which the land’s value went up from Rs. 7.5 crore to Rs. 58 crore in just 65 days because of the licence given to it — raises questions about whether DLF had entered into business with Mr. Vadra in order to get clearances for land that may not have been forthcoming through regular methods,” suggests The Hindu.
Quid pro quo?
b) Does DLF normally give three year interest free advances? DLF gave Vadra an advance of Rs 50 crore against the land it valued at Rs 58 crore. The Financial Express points out that “DLF says that for the…land, which it valued at Rs 58 crore, the advance of Rs 50 crore was paid to Vadra in three instalment of Rs 5 crore, Rs 10 crore and Rs 35crore crore during 2008-09. The first was when Vadra got the letter of intent from the Haryana government, second instalment was paid when Vadra got the actual licence from the state government to develop the land and the final instalment when all the other approvals and clearances were procured.” The first instalment was paid on June 3,2008, but the sale deed of this land for Rs 58 crore to DLF was registered only on September 18, 2012, says The Hindu.
In legal terms the process of registering a sale deed is referred to as conveyance which essentially means, the transfer of ownership or interest in real property from the seller to the buyer by a document, such as a deed, lease, or mortgage.
DLF had said in an earlier statement that “Skylight Hospitality Pvt Ltd approached us in FY 2008-09(i.e. the period between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009) to sell a piece of land measuring approximately 3.5 acres…DLF agreed to buy the said plot, given its licensing status and its attractiveness as a business proposition for a total consideration of Rs 58 crores. As per normal commercial practice, the possession of the said plot was taken over by DLF in FY 2008-09 itself and a total sum of Rs 50 crores given as advance in instalments against the purchase consideration.”
So what took DLF more than three years to conveyance this property even though they took possession of it in FY 2008-2009? As the Financial Express writes “The delay in getting the land registered has surprised experts who track the sector and have audited the account books of real estate firms. “Normally, conveyancing of land gets done very quickly, especially for big developers. However, if one legally challenges the delay, both sides can cite several reasons for it,” experts Financial Express spoke to said.”
DLF also had an explanation for the delay in getting the land conveyance. “DLF sources say the delay in getting the land registered in its name was deliberate since the market at that time was going through a slowdown. “Had we got the land conveynanced in our name during 2008-09 we would have to pay the balance Rs 8 crore to Vadra immediately, plus another around Rs 4 crore towards registration charges,” DLF officials told Financial Express. Also 2008-2009 was a time of slowdown and the company was not looking to launch any project then, DLF added.
DLF had valued the land at Rs 58 crore. They had already paid Vadra an advance of Rs 50 crore. So they needed to pay him the balance Rs 8 crore after they had conveyanced the property. By delaying the conveyance till September 2012, the company made savings on interest costs, DLF feels.
But what about the Rs 50 crore they had paid as an advance to Vadra in instalments, starting in June 2008? Wasn’t the company losing out on interest on this money? An advance unlike a loan is made interest free for a short period of time. This meant that Vadra had access to a part of the Rs 50 crore advance for a period of more than four years, given that the first instalment was paid in June 2008. And he had access to the entire advance of Rs 50 crore for around three years.
DLF in its statement refers to giving advances as normal commercial practice. But the question that crops up here is whether it is regular practice for the company to give advances for such long periods of time? “DLF has not been able to cite other instances of where interest-free advances have been given, and over such long periods of time,” writes the Financial Express.
c) Where did the initial money to buy land come from? The balance sheet of Sky Light Hospitality as on March 31, 2008 shows that the paidup capital of the company was Rs 1 lakh. The company had no reserves or surplus neither did it have any secured or unsecured loans on its books. So how did a company with Rs 1 lakh of capital available for business by a piece of land worth Rs 7.5 crore(as per the sale deed) or Rs 15.38 crore(as per the balance sheet of Sky Light Hospitality as on March 31, 2009)?
The answer might lie in what Business Standard has to say today. “Chartered accountants say the only other possibility is the company issued cheques far in excess of the money it had in its account,” the paper writes.
What this means is that Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality issued cheques to pay the seller of the land without having enough money in the bank account. But wouldn’t that lead to the cheques bouncing? “That cheque, if presented, would have been dishonoured for want of funds and it would have been a criminal liability under the Negotiable Instruments Act. This also means that actually the person to whom the cheque(s) was/were issued was not at all paid and there were no arrangements with the bank to pay,” said a senior chartered accountant. He said full scrutiny of the bank accounts could reveal the actual transactions that happened. “My hunch is — it is only a hunch as there is no proof — the agreement would have been executed between the seller and the company and in the agreement they would have mentioned cheque details but those cheque(s) were not deposited with the bank immediately as that would have been agreed,” writes the Business Standard.
So Vadra’s Sky Light bought the land, issued cheques to pay for it and at the same time ensured that the seller did not deposit those cheques. So how as the seller eventually paid? “It is also possible that when money from DLF would have come in during the next financial year, these cheques were presented,” the Business Standard points out.
To conclude, it is well established by now that there are too many inconsistencies in Vadra-DLF deals. It is very clear that Vadra benefitted from his dealings with DLF. What is difficult to establish that there was a quid pro quo involved as well. Hopefully, the newspapers will have more breaking news on this issue in the days to come.
The article originally appeared on on October 16, 2012.
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

How Manmohan’s omelette came out as scrambled egg

Vivek Kaul
Around half way through Manu Joseph’s new book The Illicit Happiness of Other People, Ousep Chacko, one of the main characters in the book, says “Don’t hate me, son. There are people in this world who set out to make an omelette but end up with scrambled eggs. I am one of them.”
I just couldn’t help comparing this statement to Manmohan Singh, the current Prime Minister of the country. When he started out in 2004 he had all the economic ingredients that could be used to make a good omelette but what he has given us instead is burnt bhurji (the closest Indian representation of scrambled eggs and with due apologies to all the vegetarians out there).
When Manmohan Singh took over as the Prime Minister on May 22, 2004, things were looking good on the economic front. Consumer price index (CPI) inflation was at a rather benign 2.83%(Source: in May 2004. Interest rates were low.
The fiscal deficit projected by the government for 2004-2005(or the period between April 1, 2004 and March 31, 2005) was at 4.4% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Fiscal deficit is the difference between what the government earns and what it spends.
The interest payments that the government had to make on previous debt formed around 94% of the fiscal deficit. Interest payments stood at Rs 1,29,500 crore whereas the fiscal deficit was at Rs 1,37,407 crore.  Thus the primary deficit or the difference between expenditure and income, after leaving out the interest payments, came to just 0.3% of the GDP.
What this meant was that the government was more or less meeting its expenditure from the income that it was earning during the course of the year. Thus the deficit was on account of the past debt. It also meant that the government did not have to borrow much, which in turn kept the interest rates low, encouraging both businesses and consumers to borrow and spend, and thus helping the Indian economy grow at a fast rate.
The subsidy bill for the year stood at Rs 43,516 crore or a little over 9% of the total government expenditure.
Cut to now. The CPI inflation for July 2012 was at 9.86%. The interest rate on most retail loans is greater than 10%. And the fiscal deficit has gone through the roof. The projected fiscal deficit for the year is Rs 5,13,590 crore or around 5.1% of the GDP. The primary deficit is at 1.9% of the GDP.
Even these numbers, as I showed in a recent piece will turn out to be way off the mark. (You can read the piece here). As economist Shankar Acharya wrote in the Business Standard “A few days back the Controller General of Accounts (CGA, not CAG!) informed us that the central government’s fiscal deficit for the first four months of 2012-13 had already exceeded half of the Budget’s target for the full year.”
The way things are going currently, the fiscal deficit might touch 7% of the GDP or its roundabout by the end of this year. This is a situation which hasn’t been experienced since 1990-91, just before India liberalised and opened up the economy.
In his speech as the Finance Minister of India in July 1991 Manmohan Singh had said “The crisis of the fiscal system is a cause for serious concern. The fiscal deficit of the Central Government…is estimated at more than 8 per cent of GDP in 1990-91, as compared with 6 per cent at the beginning of the 1980s and 4 per cent in the mid-1970s.”
So the question that arises is what went wrong between 2004 and 2012? The answer is that the subsidy budget of the government went through the roof. Things started changing in 2007-2008. The projected subsidy bill for the year was Rs 54,330 crore. By the end of the year the government had spent Rs 69,742 crore or 28% more. This was in preparation for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
The same thing happened the next year i.e. 2008-2009. The government budgeted Rs 71,431 crore as subsidies and ended up spending Rs 1,29,243 crore, a whopping 81% more. The subsidies were primarily on account of fertiliser, oil and food.
The budgeted subsidies for the current financial year (i.e. the period between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013) are at Rs 1,90,015 crore or around 12.7% of the total government expenditure. But as has been the case earlier the government will end up spending much more than this. Even after the Rs 5 increase in diesel price, the oil marketing companies (OMCs) will lose more than Rs 1 lakh crore on selling diesel this year. The total loss on account of selling diesel, kerosene and cooking gas at a loss is estimated to come to Rs 1,67,000 crore.
Just this will push up the subsidy bill close to Rs 3,00,000 crore.  The government is expected to cross the budgeted amount for food and fertiliser subsidy as well. All in all it’s safe to say that subsidies will account for more than 20% of the government expenditure during the course of the year, leading to greater borrowing by the government and thus higher interest rates for everybody else.
The idea behind the subsidies (or inclusive growth as the government likes to call it) is to help the poor and ensure that they are not left out of the growth process. The question is where is the money to fund these subsidies going to come from? As Ila Patnaik writes in The Indian Express “Anyone looking at the rising subsidy bill, at the size of the welfare programmes, and contrasting it with the limited tax base, can only wonder why India will not have a fiscal crisis. A continuation of the present policies cannot but land the country into a huge problem. Either before a crisis or after it, there is little doubt that the current expenditure path has to change.”
The programme at the heart of the so called inclusive growth is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), under which there is a legal guarantee of 100 days of employment during the course of the financial year to adults of any rural household. The daily wage is set at Rs 120 in 2009 prices, which means it is indexed for inflation. Now only if economic and social development was as easy as getting people to dig holes and fill them up.
Also as is usual with most such schemes in India there are huge leakages in this scheme as well. Estimates suggest that leakages are as high as 70%, which means only around Rs 30 of the Rs 100, reaches those it should, while the rest is being siphoned off. This is done by fudging muster rolls, which are essentially supposed to contain the number of days a labourer has worked and the wages he or she has been paid for it.
Also these subsidy and welfare programmes were initiated when the Indian economy was growing faster than 9%. Now the economic growth has slowed down to 5% levels. As Patnaik puts it “Implicit was also the argument that NREGA will be paid for by the high tax collection that the fast growing sectors of the economy would yield. Growth was to be made inclusive through a redistribution of incomes. This was the scenario when India was growing at 10 per cent and leaving some people behind. It was a scenario that might stand the test of time if India continued to grow at a long-run steady state of 10 per cent growth. This plan did not appear to evaluate the fiscal path of such a programme when growth halved.”
Slow growth also implies a slowdown in tax collections for the government, which might lead to the government needing to borrow more to finance the subsidies and welfare programmes.
A lot of the expenditure on account of subsidies could have been met if the government had been less corrupt and not sold off the assets of the nation at rock bottom prices. The loss on account of the telecom scandal was estimated to be at Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The loss on account of the coal blocks scandal was estimated to be at Rs 1.86lakh crore.
While these scams were happening all around him, Manmohan Singh chose to look the other way. As TN Ninan wrote in the Business Standard “Corruption silenced telecom, it froze orders for defence equipment, it flared up over gas, and now it might black out the mining and power sectors. Manmohan Singh’s fatal flaw — his willingness to tolerate corruption all around him while keeping his own hands clean — has led us into a cul de sac , with the country able to neither tolerate rampant corruption nor root it out.”
Singh has tried to re-establish his reformist credentials recently by announcing a spate of economic reforms over Friday and Saturday. But none of these reforms look to control the expenditure of the government and thus bring down the fiscal deficit. If the government continues down this path the future is doomed. As Ruchir Sharma writes in Breakout Nations “If the government continues down this path, India might meet the same path as Brazil in the late 1970s, when excessive government spending set off hyperinflation, ending the country’s economic boom.”
Higher expenditure also means inflation will continue to remain high. “NREGA pushed rural wage inflation up to 15% in 2011,” writes Sharma. The fear of high inflation continues, despite the reforms announced by the government. “The government undertook long anticipated measures towards fiscal consolidation by reducing fuel subsidies and selling stakes in public enterprises. Further, steps taken to increase foreign direct investment (FDI) should contribute to both greater capital inflows and, over the long run, higher productivity, particularly in the food supply chain. Importantly, however, for the moment, inflationary pressures, both at wholesale and retail levels, are still strong,” the Reserve Bank of India said in a statement today, keeping the repo rate (or the rate at which it lends to banks) constant at 8%. This despite the fact that there was great pressure on the central bank to cut the repo rate. It is unfair to expect the RBI to make up for the mistakes of the government.
The bottomline is that if the government has to get its act right it needs to reign in its expenditure. I started this piece with eggs let me end it with chickens. As economist Bibek Debroy wrote in the Economic Times “Since 2009, UPA-II has behaved like a headless chicken. It is still headless, but the chicken at least wants to cross the road. We still don’t know whether it will be run over or cross the road and lay an egg.”
And even if eggs are laid, we might still not end up with burnt bhurji rather than omelettes.
(The article originally appeared on

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at 
[email protected])