The hatchery could not serve them golden eggs but the luxury resort may.
The fortunes of Continental Hatcheries Pvt Ltd, a company owned by Punjab’s ruling Badals, had changed after they came to power in 2007 and renamed it Metro Eco
Resorts Pvt Ltd on June 5, 2008.
The land at Palanpur village in Mullanpur near Chandigarh that once housed the hatchery is now seeing hectic construction of a luxury resort by the Oberoi Group under agreement with Metro Eco Resorts, wherein Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his wife and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal have majority stakes. The project has shot into the limelight in the wake of a petition in the Punjab and Haryana high court, which comes up for hearing on Tuesday. The petition challenges the land acquisition for the construction of a 100-foot-wide road leading to the resort.
The resort is being developed as a seven-star luxury hotel called Oberoi’s Sukhvilas, adjoining a 400-acre forest. Spread over 20 acres, it will consist of luxury villas with private swimming pools surrounded by extensive landscaped gardens. The hotel will be managed by East India Hotels Ltd (Oberoi Group) and is expected to be operational next year.
In this investigative report, Hindustan Times traces how changes in government plans and approvals for the Mullanpur area of Mohali coincided with cash pumped by the Badals in their company for the construction of the resort during their back-to-back stint in power since 2007.
PREVIOUS TENURE (2007-12)
A year before Continental Hatcheries got a new name, the Parkash Singh Badal government had hired Singaporebased Jurong Consultants to draft a regional plan for Greater Mohali and master plans for Mohali, Kharar, Banur, Zirakpur, Dera Bassi and Mullanpur, on June 22, 2007. Of the 32 master plans approved and notified in Punjab for cities and towns, only those falling in Greater Mohali was prepared by Jurong.
Mohali and Mullanpur were among the first two master plans submitted by Jurong on December 16, 2008. The rest came in the course of two years by 2010. In their previous stint in power till January 2012, not much had changed beyond the name for the company. A majority of shares of Metro Eco Resorts were held by Sukhbir, Harsimrat, Sukhbir’s mother Surinder Kaur and Dabwali Transport, a company owned by Sukhbir.
After the name change, the company’s authorised share capital went up from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore in 2008 but the paid-up capital remained Rs 12.7 lakh. Sukhbir ceased to be its director from March 28, 2008. In February 2010, Metro Eco Resorts became a public limited company.
PRESENT TENURE (MARCH 2012 ONWARDS)
After changing Punjab’s poll history by winning a second election in a row, a lot changed for the Badal company. Their share capital went up manifold, so did changes in Mullanpur’s master plan. And this was not just a coincidence.
According to Metro Eco Resort’s annual return filed with the ministry of corporate affairs, late Surinder Kaur’s shares were transferred to Sukhbir on October 8, 2012. The company’s share capital also went up from Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 5 crore in 2012-13.
On June 6, 2013, another consultant, Aecom, was hired to review the master plan of Mullanpur. This even as the urban development department had a battery of architects and Jurong had been paid Rs 9 crore for the six master plans.
On why only Mullanpur, Punjab chief town planner Harnek Dhillon said his department was in the process of hiring consultants for reviewing master plans of Kharar, Zirakpur and Dera Bassi as well.
NEW CHANDIGARH TAG
On May 28, 2013, chief minister Badal presided over a meeting of the Punjab regional and town planning development board that decided to amend the Mullanpur master plan and change its name to New Chandigarh. On September 13, 2013, the Punjab town and country planning department, which falls under Sukhbir’s housing and urban development ministry, announced through newspaper advertisements since the area is in the vicinity of Chandigarh and its planning is proposed on the same pattern, it is proposed to change the name of master plan Mullanpur to master plan New Chandigarh and invited objections for the same.
On February 2014, the department notified the changes in the master plan, including its name, for “optimum use of scarce urban resources and upgrade of road network”.
In the same year of 2013-14, the authorised share capital of Metro Eco resorts jumped eight-fold to Rs 40 crore and the paid-up capital to Rs 23.8 crore. Since the annual general meeting of September 2014, the paid-up capital of the Badals and their companies, Orbit Resorts and G-Next, in the Metro Eco Resorts stands at Rs 38 crore!
NEW Rs 29-CRORE ROAD
In the meeting chaired by the CM, one of the amendments to the Mullanpur master plan was to construct a 100-footwide road by Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (GMADA) at a cost of Rs 29 crore. On March 4, 2014, Sukhbir’s urban development department notified a social impact assessment (SIA) report for this “new master plan road”. The report clearly betrayed the purpose of its construction saying, “The proposed road from Majra-T-point to Palanpur village will ease traffic from the congested road of Majra and provide connectivity to Palanpur village.”
After six months on September 22, 2014, the department notified land acquisition for the road stating, “Land is required at public expense for a public purpose. An expert group has recommended to proceed with the acquisition and the government has accepted its recommendations.”
The acquisition was completed by February 2015. It has now been challenged in the Punjab and Haryana high court by one of the land owners, saying the land is being acquired “only to serve the interest of an individual, who has been involved in the development of a hotel project coming up at Palanpur village.”
The high court has ordered a stay on the construction till the hearing on the case is on.
CTP Dhillon contends the road is being constructed on the demand of Majra village residents. “The village passed a resolution for a bypass road. The deputy commissioner then got a feasibility study done. The road was the shortest possible route to bypass the village and ease traffic. We have proposed 100-foot wide roads in master plans of other cities and towns as well,” he said. The state has no precedent of a 100-feet wide road coming up on a village resolution.
SUKHBIR DENIES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
HT waited for several weeks for Sukhbir’s take.
In an earlier interview on his flourishing business empire following the Moga bus incident, the deputy CM had said, “All approvals for the project came from the union environment ministry during the UPA rule at the Centre”.
The 2013-14 directors’ report of the company states, “All approvals for the resort and plans have been sanctioned by the chief town planner, Punjab.” He is under Sukhbir’s urban department.
Sukhbir, however, had then denied any conflict of interest. “I am asking corporates to invest in Punjab. I should be commended for investing in my own state. It would spur growth of the area. Is it not better than seeking investment from outside?”