FDI debate: Why Sushma should get the stupid-statement award

sushma swaraj
Vivek Kaul
It’s that time of the year when awards are given out of for the best things and possibly the worst things of the year. And the award for the most stupid statement of the year has to definitely go to Sushma Swaraj, the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha.
During the course of the debate on the government decision to allow foreign direct investment into multi-brand retailing or what is more popularly referred to as big retail, she said: “Will Wal-Mart care about the poor farmer’s sister’s wedding? Will Wal-Mart send his children to school? Will Wal-Mart notice his tears and hunger?”
These lines sound straight out of a bad Hindi movie of the 1980s with dialogues written by Kadar Khan. Yes, Wal-Mart will not care about the poor farmer’s sister’s wedding. Neither will it send his children to school. And nor notice his tears and hunger simply because its not meant to do thatThis is because Wal-Mart is a selfish company interested in making money and ensuring that its stock price goes up, so that its investors are rewarded.
The same stands true for every Indian company which is into big retail (be Tata, Birla, Ambani or for that matter Big Bazaar). No company, Indian or foreign, into big retail or not, is bothered about the tears of the farmer. And neither is the government.
Let’s look at some other things that Swaraj went onto say. “The remaining 70 percent of the goods sold in these supermarkets will be procured from China. Factories will open in China, traders will prosper in China while darkness will befall 12 crore people in India,” she declared.
Already a lot of what is sold in India comes from China. Around three weeks I went around several electronic shops in Delhi trying to help my mother choose a refrigerator. Almost all Indian brands had compressors which were Made in China. If one takes the compressor out of the equation what basically remains in a refrigerator is some plastic and some glass. And all that is Made in India.
My television set which is a Japanese brand is also Made in China. A leading Indian electrical company buys almost all the irons that it sells in India from China and simply stamps its brand name over it.
A lot of pitchkaris that get sold around the time of Holi and diyas and electronic lighting that get sold around the time of diwali are also Made in China. As a quote from a story that appeared in The Times of India story earlier this year went “It seems that ‘Made in China’ has researched our festivals and sensed the need of the customers. For the past 10 years, the business of local sprinklers is decreasing due to stiff competition with Chinese sprinklers. We are facing huge loss, plastic powder through which the pichkaris are prepared locally are bought at Rs 100 per kg while at the same time, there is no subsidy or relaxation on the name of festival,” shared Bihari Lal, a local manufacturer and trader of sprinklers.” Chinese made colours also available during Holi.
And none of this has been brought to India by Wal-Mart. It was brought to India largely by Indian entrepreneurs and traders, a lot of whom form the core voting base of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and also fund the party to a large extent.
Made in China has become a part of our lives whether we like it or not and it will continue to remain a part of our lives, with or without Wal-Mart. If Wal-Mart does not supply us with Made in China goods, the Indian entrepreneurs and retailers will surely do, primarily because Chinese goods are cheaper than the Indian ones. Hence, what Swaraj wants us to believe is already happening with no Wal-Mart in sight.
The other point that comes out here is the ability of Wal-Mart to source stuff from China. This is not rocket science. Indian retailers can also do the same thing. As Rajiv Lal of the Harvard Business School told me in an earlier interviewIf Wal-Mart is operating in Brazil there is nothing that Wal-Mart can do in Brazil that the local Brazilian guy cannot do. If you want to procure supplies from China, you can procure supplies from China as much as Wal-Mart can procure supplies.”
Swaraj also talked about predatory pricing that Wal-Mart would resort to. “These supermarkets introduce predatory pricing. At first, they will introduce such low prices, that will finish the rest of the market. Then when the customer has no other choice, they will keep hiking prices and looting the people,” she said.
This statement is also misleading As Rohit Deshpande of the Harvard Business Schoool told me in a recent interaction that I had with him “ For a company like Wal-Mart historical strategy is fairly easy to understand. It is to make a major branded product available cheaper. So you will have a wider assortment of branded product than any of their competitors that’s the first thing. The second thing is that they have private label. They keep increasing the percentage of their private label within each of their broad categories. So the consumers get trained to come to the store because they can find an assortment of branded products. And once they become loyal to your store then they find that they can make price comparisons within the store and they end up buying your private label. And then your margin is really so much better. It’s a strategy that has worked well for Wal-Mart.”
So for this strategy to work Wal-Mart has to ensure that they stock private label goods (basically their own brands) which are cheaper than other brands. Hence, Wal-Mart might decide to stock it’s own brand of soap which is lets say cheaper than Lifebuoy. For this strategy to work their own goods will have to be cheaper than other branded goods. Hence, it can’t keep increasing prices and keep looting people as Swaraj wants us to believe. Indians aren’t exactly idiots.
Also, if you have visited any of the big retail shops over the years you would have realised that these shops have been increasing the number of private label brands that they sell. As of now this is largely to limited to things like pulses, noodles, sugar etc. The point is that big retail in India is following the same strategy that Wal-Mart does worldwide.
The other interesting point that comes up here is that Wal-Mart is able to offer low prices primarily because of two things. One is the fact that it gets its real estate cheap because it typically sets up shop outside city limits. And two is the fact is the homogeneity of the population when it comes to consumption.
A typical Wal-Mart in the United States is situated outside the city, where rents are low. But such a strategy may not work in India. “It’s not easy to open a 150,000 square feet store in India. That kind of space is not available. They can’t open these stores 50 miles away from where the population lives. People in India don’t have the conveyance to go and buy bulk goods, bring it and store it. They don’t have the conveyance and they don’t have the big houses. So it doesn’t work,” explained Lal.
This is something that marketing guru V Kumar agreed with when I interviewed him sometime back. “Even if Wal-Mart is there in every place, the way they are located is typically outside the city limits. So only people with time, motivation and a vehicle, will be able to go and buy things. And the combination of these three things is very rare.”
The other factor as to why Wal-Mart may not be able to offer very low prices in India is because there is no homogeneity when it comes to consumption behaviour leading to a situation where the company may not have the same economies of scale that it does in other parts of the world.
As Kumar told me “Does the country as a whole consume common things or there are regional biases? In a country like Brazil people eat similar foods that every retailer can sell.” In India clearly things are different. “In India between South, East, West and the North, there is so much heterogeneity that you need localised catering and marketing. So consumption behaviour varies therefore unless you are willing to carry heterogeneous products in each of the locations it is tough,” said Kumar.
The point I am trying to make is that Wal-Mart is not such a big fear that it was made out to be by Swaraj. They do make their mistakes as well. As Deshpande told me “They have had hiccups in the interest of scale and cost efficiency. They have sometimes pushed products that did not make sense for the local market. An example, I believe it was in Argentina, where Wal-Mart, around July 4(the American independence day) had a lot of American flags shipped into their stores.
Pankaj Ghemawat, the youngest person to become a full professor at Harvard Business School makes an interesting point in his book Redefining Global Strategy. As he writes “When CEO Lee Scott (who was the CEO of Wal-Mart from 2000 to 2009) was asked a few years ago about why he thought Wal-Mart could expand successfully overseas, his response was that naysayers had also questioned the company’s ability to move successfully from its home state of Arkansas to Alabama…such trivialisation of international differences greases the rails for competing exactly the same way overseas at home. This has turned out to be a recipe for losing money in markets very different from the United States: as the former head of the company’s German operations, now shut down, plaintively observed, “We didn’t realise that pillowcases are a different size in Germany.””
Wal-Mart had to pull out of South Korea as well in 2006.
Hence, Swaraj could have clearly done some better research before making one of the most important speeches of her career. She could have read the recent column that P Sainath wrote in The Hindu , where he talks about Chris Pawelski, an American farmer and the onions that he produces.
As Sainath writes “While the Walmarts, Shop Rites and other chain stores sell his (i.e. Pawelski’s) kind of onions for $1.49 to $1.89 a pound, Pawelski himself gets no more than 17 cents. And that’s an improvement. Between 1983 and 2010, the average price he got stayed around 12 cents a pound. “All our input costs rose,” he points out. “Fertiliser, pesticide, just about everything went up. Except the price we got.” Which was about $6 a 50-pound bag. Retail prices though, soared in the same period. Distances are not the cause. The same chains sell cheap imports from Peru and China, driving down prices.”
The other interesting point that Sainath makes it that companies even dictate the size of the onions he produces. As Sainath writes “Pawelski held up the onion. “They want this size because they know you won’t use more than half of one of these in cooking a meal. And you’ll throw away the other half. The more you waste, the more you’ll buy.” The stores know this. So wastage is a strategy, not a by-product.”
Such examples on Wal-Mart and other big retail chains are not hard to find. A Google search throws up plenty of them. A speech against the negative effects of big retail should have been full of such examples instead of saying things like whether Wal-Mart will be bothered by farmer’s sister’s wedding. 

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on December 5, 2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

Robert Vadra’s got vision; rest of the world wears bifocals

Vivek Kaul
If ever there ever was a paisa vasool western it was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The film other than having great visuals, a fast paced story line, brilliant background music and excellent performances by its lead cast, also had what is my favourite one liner from an English movie.
In a rather non-descript scene as Butch and Sundance head into the sunset, Butch says “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”
Nowhere is the statement truer currently than in the case of Robert Vadra, who has earned hundreds of crore without putting much of his own money at risk. As a line from a song in the movie Gol Maal (the original one made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and not the recent Rohit Shetty series) goes “ke paisa kamane ke liye bhi paisa chahiye”.
Vadra broke the age old wisdom inherent in the phrase. He had the vision of figuring out how to make profits of hundreds of crore by putting very little of his own money into the business. Of course this clarity of vision wouldn’t have been possible to execute if he was not married to Priyanka Gandhi (now Vadra) India’s perennial politician in waiting.
The story started with Sky Light Hospitality, a company in which Vadra owns 99.8% stake, zeroing on 3.5 acres of land in Shikohpur, ten kilometers from Gurgaon, in February 2008. This land was bought from Onkareshwar Properties, then majorly owned by Satyanand Yajee, a man known to be close to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupendra Singh Hooda.
Yajee sold the land to Vadra for Rs 7.5 crore. The balance sheet of Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality as on March 31,2008, clearly reveals that the company had a capital base of only Rs 1 lakh. Also the company did not have any loans on its books. So how did a company with a capital of Rs 1 lakh buy a piece of land worth Rs 7.5 crore? Over and above this stamp duty also needed to be paid, where did that money come from?
Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality issued a cheque without having the requisite money in its bank account. Yajee did not deposit the cheque and supposedly also paid up the stamp duty. Soon Vadra sold the piece of land to DLF which valued it at Rs 58 crore. DLF gave an advance of Rs 50 crore on this. The first Rs 5 crore of this advance was paid out in early June 2008.
This money was used by Vadra to pay off Yajee. He also used the money to go on a major property buying spree across Rajasthan and Haryana, two states ruled by the Congress party and made a killing on it.
But some recent revelations made by the Outlook magazine show that Vadra could not have sold the land to DLF in the first place.Documents seen by Outlook reveal that, till recently, the land did not have the required permission to be sold, leased or used for any other purpose (than for which it was sold to the buyer). In short, Vadra’s company (Sky Light Hospitality) could not by law sell the land (as it claims to have done in 2008) to DLF,” the article points out.
The land that Vadra had bought in February 2008 was agricultural land and agriculture land can’t be used for commercial use. The change of land use (CLU) was approved by the Haryana government in late March 2008. As The Hindu had reported earlier “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.”
So Vadra got the permission to develop the land into a housing colony in March 2008. But did that permission allow him to sell the land along with the licence? The answer is no.
As Outlook points out “As per one set of official records of the state government for 2008, 2009 and 2010, the permission the Shikohpur plot had was a ‘CLU’, which makes farmland fit for commercial use. This ‘licence’, officials say, could not have been transferred. Nor could a plot with CLU have been sold, sub-let, sub-divided, broken into plots, or developed in any way other than the CLU was originally meant for. In Skylight’s case, the permission is understood to have been for developing residential properties, though it is not yet known whose name exactly it was taken in. Subsequently, Skylight may indeed have decided to tie up with a builder such as DLF to develop homes—but would the company be permitted an outright sale, along with the licence? That’s something officials say can’t be done.”
What this means is that if Vadra wanted to build homes on the piece of land and sell them, he could do that. He could have even tied up with a builder and built homes. But he couldn’t have sold the land along with the licence to DLF. And that is precisely what he did.
This is proved by the statement issued by DLF on October 6, 2012. “M/s Skylight Hospitality Pvt Ltd approached us in FY 2008-09 to sell a piece of land measuring approximately 3.5 acres just off NH 8 in Village Sikohpur, Dist Gurgaon. This was licensable to develop a Commercial Complex and the LOI from Govt of Haryana to develop it for a Commercial Complex had been received in March 2008 itself. 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 crore.”
So what DLF was paying for was essentially the licence that Vadra had to develop the land for commercial use from the Haryana government. The company has clearly said this.
This admittance by DLF raises another interesting question. The company has practically built a new city Gurgaon, often referred to as the Millennium City, from scratch. Given that why were they so naïve as to not be aware what the law as it stands was? Or was it just an attempt on their part to be nice to the first son-in-law of this country?
Vadra used the Rs 50 crore advance that he got from DLF to build a mini land empire for himself between 2008 and 2011. But all this had only been possible because he had the ‘vision’ to marry Priyanka Gandhi. The rest of us in the meanwhile were caught wearing bifocals.
The article was originally published on www.firstpot.com on November 17,2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

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 www.firstpost.com on October 27,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/economy/robert-vadras-midas-touch-is-based-on-inside-info-504707.html
(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 www.firstpost.com on October 16, 2012. http://www.firstpost.com/business/vadragate-stench-of-funny-business-gets-stronger-492351.html
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]