Monday, November 28th, 2022 12:52:28

Land Grabbers And Their Shenanigans

By Sarat C. Das
Updated: October 30, 2022 9:52 am

The demolition of Noida Twin Towers, incomplete and scrappy residential buildings situated near Okhla Bird Sanctuary, created ripples in the world media. The two cheek-by-jowl towers called Apex and Ceyane, built by Indian private developer Supertech, rose to more than 320 feet (97 metres) and 30 storeys in a densely populated neighbourhood in the city of Noida, in what termed be a highly skilled job involving accomplished engineers from at least three countries. The two towers were found to be built in gross violation of multiple construction regulations by Supertech, one of the most defamed builders in India. Over the years I visited Kalkaji police station in New Delhi several times to plead my case as a hapless homebuyer of Supertech. The police station was found to be a recordkeeper of all Supertech’s malfeasance and misdemeanor, for being located near the notorious builder’s registered office in Nehru Place, hence, its default jurisdiction as per Registrar of Companies (RoC).

The reader, the official chronicler of all the crime, pointed at a huge pile of files during my first visit, ‘’these all files from many disgruntled home buyers of Supertech.’’ My Supertech Palm Green property in New Moradabad, a city some 150 kilometres from Delhi, which I bought in 2007, denied me the possession of the property and allowed unknown squatters to inhabit the dwelling. ‘’Yours is a common story’’, the thana reader empathised, ‘’and as much the police and judiciary will be willing, they would not be able to arrive on a resolution in your life-time’’. He hurried through my file and it soon disappeared into a small mound of files.  Just some months before the demolition of the twin towers, the insolvency proceedings had been initiated against Supertech after a National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) bench admitted a petition filed by Union Bank of India for non-payment of dues by the Noida-based property developer. NCLT’s order impacted some 25,000 homebuyers who had been waiting to take delivery of their homes in Supertech’s projects. As an individual I am merely a dot in the sky.

The original plan, according to plans submitted by the NOIDA Authority in the city, called for Emerald Court to have 14 buildings and included 3, 4 and 5 BHK flats. The towers were part of real estate company Supertech Limited’s Emerald Court residential complex. The Supreme Court of India upheld the original decision by the Allahabad High Court and ordered the buildings’ demolition on 31 August, 2021.

The Supreme Court originally set 21 August 2022 as the deadline for the Supertech Twin Towers’ demolition. However, this was extended by a week to 28 August, and a buffer period (29 August to 4 September) was given as a contingency for any marginal delay due to weather conditions. The Noida authority and Roorkee-based Central Building Research Institute (CBRI) tasked Edifice Engineering and South African firm Jet Demolition to demolish the buildings. Some 3,700kg of explosives were poured into more than 9,000 holes in the structures, thus, triggered the implosion allowing an edifice to collapse onto itself. As a safety measure, the basements of the “Twin Towers” were stuffed with loose debris to absorb the vibrations. On 28 August 2022 at 2:30 pm, on Sunday, the towers were demolished after the implosion in about 10 seconds. around 10,000 people watched the implosion. Some six people, including three men in charge of the explosion – also called “blasters” – and a police officer were allowed inside what authorities called an “exclusion zone” to set off the explosions, which witnessed the towers implode simultaneously. This was the biggest operation and demolition ever done in India as this structure was higher than QutubMinar (72.5 metres).

The blast triggered using a mix of explosives, including emulsions. Helping the ignition were the detonators with time delays of milliseconds and plastic tubes to transport signals to the explosives – loaded in the two connected buildings – by means of shock waves. Experts were concerned about the birds in the area of the demolition and dust pollution due to the debris. The Air quality index (AQI) before and just after the demolition was 108 and 676 respectively.

Such demolitions are generally not permitted or are rare in densely built areas around the world. That made the twin tower demolitions especially challenging. Somewhat affected was the 12-storey inhabited building standing barely 9 metres from the two towers. Around 7,000 people lived in some 45 condominium buildings on either side of the towers. Almost at the big risk was the underground pipeline which supplied cooking gas to Delhi, just some 15 metres from the demolition site.

All people and their pets in the neighbourhood buildings were to be evacuated early on Sunday morning. They were only allowed to return to their homes some hours after the implosion. Stray animals were scooped off the streets and sheltered in animal homes. Traffic in the area and on a key expressway came to a grinding halt. The implosion whipped up a cloud of dust rising to 300 metres from the ground, so airports and the air force were told to ensure safety of flights.

The legal dispute began in 2009 when four residents raised concern regarding Supertech Limited’s violation of building by-laws by building the twin towers. The core team of Emerald Court Owner Residents Welfare Association (ECO RWA) included UdayBhan Singh Teotia (ex- DIG of CRPF), SK Sharma, Ravi Bajaj, and MK Jain. Shortly after, in 2010, the builder started digging up more areas, where a shopping complex and garden had been planned. They then found out that the builder was planning two new 40-floor towers in that area – Apex and Ceyanne. The legal expenses amounted to almost Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million). MK Jain, who passed away in 2021 due to COVID, led the team and raised money. In mid-2012, residents of Emerald Court filed a case before the Allahabad High Court seeking for the demolition of the twin towers.In April 2014, the high court ruled in favor of the residents. The matter reached the Supreme Court of India, which upheld the Allahabad High Court decision on August 31, 2021. The construction of the towers violated India’s National Building Code, 2005 (NBC).

The Forum for People’s Collective Efforts (FPCE), hailed the decision as a landmark ruling in the history of India’s real estate industry and mentioned that the case should serve as a deterrent against illegal construction. The Supreme Court directed the entire amount of home buyers be refunded with a 12 percent interest rate. They also awarded the Emerald Court RWA to be paid Rs 2 crores. According to an analysis by ICRA, only 457 cases have been closed through the approval of a resolution plan against 1,514 cases admitted for liquidation. In the real estate category, 244 have been admitted and 116 closed. Once a company is admitted to the corporate insolvency resolution process there is a moratorium on all pending civil, consumer, RERA cases, including executions till a resolution is achieved and that buyers will have to file their claims with the Interim Resolution Profession/ Resolution Professional within the statutory prescribed timeline under the IBC.

JaypeeInfratech went into the insolvency process in August 2017 after the NCLT admitted an application by an IDBI Bank-led consortium. After a lengthy resolution process that saw many twists and turns Mumbai-based Suraksha group received the approval of financial creditors and homebuyers to take over the company in June 2021, raising hopes for around 20,000 homebuyers of getting possession of their dream flats.

In the first round of insolvency proceedings, the Rs 7,350-crore bid of Lakshadweep, part of Suraksha Group, was rejected by lenders. The CoC had rejected the bids of Suraksha Realty and NBCC in the second round held in May-June 2019. The matter then reached the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) and later the apex court.

On November 6, 2019, the Supreme Court directed completion of JIL’s insolvency process within 90 days and ordered that the revised resolution plan be invited only from NBCC and Suraksha Realty. In June last year, Mumbai-based Suraksha group received the approval of financial creditors and homebuyers to take over the JIL, raising hopes for around 20,000 homebuyers of getting possession of their dream flats.

Many builders, such as Soni Realtors Ltd promoted by KapilSoni, apparently seemed to be largely unaffected by being trashed into NCLT. Undeterred by frequent imprisonment Soni apparently seemed to have resurfaced with a score of companies owned by his cherry-picked people from his family members, accomplices and some gullible employees. His Kiro Reality Pvt Ltd, co-opted with Anglican Church of India, currently has taken control of a 1.5 acre disputed land in Karbala Lane of JorBagh in New Delhi. A stack of super luxury flats is proposed to be completed in the next few years. These duped home buyers soon would queue up before the court for justice.

In November 2021, the NCLT had appointed Gaurav Katiyar as interim resolution professional (IRP) for Spaze Tower Private Limited in a case involving 40 buyers of commercial space in Gurgaon in which the builder had promised to repay the investment at either Rs 55 or Rs 65 per sqft per month till the office units were leased out. This was one of the first matters to be admitted for a real estate company after the 10% or 100 allottees ordinance came into effect. This was later settled and the company came out of insolvency.

In December 2021, Darwin Platform Infrastructure Limited (DPIL) won the ₹1,864 crore bid to acquire Lavasa Corporation that was to construct the Lavasa Hill City through the insolvency process which was approved by the debt-ridden firm’s lenders.

In August 2021, two new bids were received by creditors of the debt-ridden Lavasa township, which was earlier under the control of Hindustan Construction Company (HCC). The outstanding loans amounted to Rs 6,000 crore. The lenders to the project, which include Bank of India, Axis Bank, L&T Finance, and asset reconstruction companies Arcil, Edelweiss, and Acre, had met on August 11, 2021.

Taking serious view of real estate companies for not complying with its order to refund money to homebuyers, the Supreme Court last year in August said that a stern action needed to be taken against them for taking its order lightly and warned them that their promoters would be sent to jail for non-compliance of its order. A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said that not only homebuyers were harassed by non-compliance of its order but also precious court time was wasted in such cases fresh round of litigation started with contempt petition against builders.

Despite all these rulings in favour of home buyers the aberrant builders are still looming at large like freebooters in the uncharted sea. For them, there are always scores of gullible people who can be easily deceived with glib narratives of dream home. Then it is all smoke and dust and court proceedings.

 


By Sarat C. Das

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