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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Dec 2014

A rags-to-riches journey

Hillary Victor, Hindustan Times  SAS Nagar, February 25, 2014
First Published: 12:00 IST(25/2/2014) | Last Updated: 12:07 IST(25/2/2014)

In 1984, when Punjab was on the boil, Kulwant Singh just managed to eke out a living. A weighing machine unit was his world. His abode: a 10 ft x 12 ft shed above his workplace. From there, it was hard to miss the vast fields surrounding Zirakpur. Thirty years later, the topography and status of the town have changed beyond recognition. So have the fortunes of this Class-10 passout.

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A dash of luck, chunks of entrepreneurial spirit and loads of determination have taken him on a dream ride from a menial worker to a real-estate baron, from a local municipal corporation councillor to an influential politician. Now, with the Akalis having given him the ticket from the Fatehgarh Sahib Lok Sabha seat, he is on the cusp of another journey - which could propel him to the corridors of power.

Today, his company, Janta Land Promoters Limited (JLPL), has an annual turnover of Rs. 1,200 crore. Its business is spread across Punjab and the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh.

Humble beginnings
The search for work brought Kulwant to Zirakpur from his native village, Samana Kalan, in Rupnagar. He came under the tutelage of a businessman, Madho Singh. Kulwant spent three years weighing trucks and other heavy vehicles. It was in 1987 when his employer started a new venture of selling wheat straw ('turi'). For nearly one year, Kulwant rode horse carts through the streets and muddy lanes of Zirakpur to sell his stock.

That's when he was bitten by the real-estate bug. "Sensing the business potential of the area, I suggested to my owner to buy 4 acres of land behind the kanda (weighing machine unit). The employer readily did so for Rs. 50,000 and made me a business partner," recalls Kulwant.

Since then, he says, there has been no looking back. From those 4 acres, he sold out plots at the rate of Rs. 90 per square yard in 1987 and earned around Rs. 5 lakh.

The journey was not easy, shares Kulwant's elder brother Amrik Singh, who still stays in the native village. The family had a small house and financial constraints were a routine. "My father was in the army," he says.

Kulwant's business forays didn't stop there. In 1988, he developed a colony in Janta Nagar, Kharar, the first residential enclave to be approved in Punjab.

In 1995, he expanded his real-estate business to Ludhiana as well. He is not new to politics. His political journey started around two decades ago, when in 1995, he contested the municipal committee elections and won from ward No 21. He served as a senior vice-president in the Municipal Corporation from 1995 to 2000 and was the president till 2005.

Equally at ease
Congress MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu recalls Kulwant's proximity to then Congress government (2002-07) in Punjab. "He developed close ties with then local bodies minister Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, who later introduced him to then chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh. The latter had plans to develop SAS Nagar into a world-class city and offered him land to develop various sectors in and around the town.

Sidhu added that in 2007, when the SAD-BJP alliance formed the government, deputy CM Sukhbir Badal announced to conduct a probe into his land deals. "A month later, the Badals suddenly backtracked. There was an 'under-the-table' deal," he said. An Akali leader of SAS Nagar, wishing not to be named, said it was NK Sharma, a realtor-turned-politician who is now a chief parliamentary secretary, who brought him close to the Badals.

His proximity to top political leaders of both the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress was conspicuous during his son's marriage in October last year. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir, besides around one dozen Akali ministers and Congress MLAs, were present on the occasion.

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