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Decoding the Badals' business empire

January 23, 2017 11:02 IST

There is more than what meets the eye to the wealth accumulated by Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, reports N Sundaresha Subramanian.

Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal (fifth from left), Prime Minister Narendra Modi, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal (second from right) and his wife and Union Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur (right) on November 25

IMAGE: Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, fifth from left, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to Badal's left, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, second from right, and his wife Union Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur, right, on November 25; Photograph: Kind courtesy Harsimrat Kaur/Facebook

Not so long ago, Metro Eco Green Resorts, a company with its registered office in Chandigarh, had a site office at Pallanpur, a village in the Majri block of the Mohali district of Punjab (PINCODE: 140307).

Last month, travel portals listed a brand new property. The address of this property was: Pallanpur, New Chandigarh, Mohali City, Punjab, 140307. Pallanpur had shed its rural identity, while Majri had become New Chandigarh.

The site office now is The Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa, a luxury resort a few kilometres from Chandigarh's upscale Sector 17 market, surrounded by over 8,000 acres of natural forest.

'It has an aesthetically landscaped garden. It offers an outdoor pool. Guests can enjoy the on-site bar. Free wi-fi is available in the rooms of the property,' promotions scream.

East India Hotels has lent the Oberoi name and manages Sukhvilas, though it does not own the property.

The property is owned by the Badals.

In 2014, while contesting from Bathinda, Union Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal's wife, declared that she owned Metro Eco Green Resorts shares worth Rs 81.5 lakh, while her husband owned shares worth Rs 1.85 crore.

At Rs 100 per share, this direct holding accounted for about 266,000 shares, or about 6 per cent, of Metro Eco Green Resorts.

However, records filed with the Union ministry of corporate affairs show that the Badals own much more in the company -- the filing with the Election Commission did not include the stake of Badal HUF (Hindu undivided family) and other cross holdings.

According to the latest annual return filed by Metro Eco Green Resorts, Badal owned 312,098 shares, or 8.07 per cent, as on March 31, 2015.

While Kaur's holding remained the same, Sukhbir Singh HUF was the largest shareholder with a 47.82 per cent stake.

Dabwali Transport owned 25.52 per cent and G-next Media owned another 11.12 per cent -- both companies are owned by Badal.

The total capital investment through these entities came to around Rs 38.65 crore (Rs 386.5 million).

That's what it took to turn what was once a poultry business into a resort -- Metro Eco Green Resort was originally known as Continental Hatcheries.

Established in 1985, with Badal becoming a director in 1990, this company had a capital of Rs 1.27 lakh (Rs 127,000) till 2005.

Inside the The Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa, Chandigarh

IMAGE: Inside the Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa, Chandigarh. Photograph: Kind courtesy, oberoihotels.com

The company in its new avatar pitched an eco-tourism project and won multiple clearances required from the central and state governments.

News reports have talked about a Rs 29 crore (Rs 290 million) road project taken up by the Greater Mohali Development Authority to provide smooth access to the Sukhvilas resort.

The capital investment in the resort itself is higher than the investments declared by the couple in shares and bonds.

According to Kaur's affidavit, she had investments of Rs 98.15 lakh (Rs 9.815 million) in such instruments, while her spouse had investments of Rs 29.18 crore (Rs 291.8 million). Badal and his companies did not respond to emails seeking comments.

In an e-mail response to queries, an Oberoi spokesperson said: "East India Hotels or The Oberoi Group have no equity in the Sukhvilas resort. The sole responsibility of East India Hotels is to manage the Sukhvilas resort. The agreement is confidential between the owner and the management company."

Badal has in the past denied any conflict of interest.

'I am asking companies 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?' he had told a newspaper a couple of years ago.

Inside the The Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa, Chandigarh

IMAGE: Inside the The Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa, Chandigarh. Photograph: Kind courtesy, oberoihotels.com

Meanwhile, the political heat over the resort has increased, especially in view of the coming state elections.

Terming Sukhvilas as 'illegal', Aam Aadmi Party spokesman Sukhpal Khaira vowed that once voted to power, his party would scrap it.

"AAP will also force the Badal family to cough up Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million), which they diverted from the public exchequer to construct illegal roads towards their seven star resort," Khaira added.

Apart from Metro Eco Green Resort, Badal had shares in five major companies, according to Kaur's affidavit.

These were Orbit Resorts, Dabwali Transport Company, Falcon Properties, Punjab Animal Breeders and Orbit Aviation.

He had share application money worth Rs 5.99 crore (Rs 59.9 million) parked in unspecified number of unlisted companies as on December 31, 2013.

Badal's biggest investment was in Orbit Resorts.

The total value of shares along with share premium was declared to be worth Rs 16.74 crore (Rs 167.4 million), according to the 2014 affidavit.

Kaur had declared her holdings to be worth Rs 9.4 lakh (Rs 940,000).

However, Badal seems to have transferred about half of his personal holdings to Kaur.

According to the latest filings with the ministry of company affairs as of March, Badal owned 442,000 shares, or 33.8 per cent, while his wife owned 448,000 shares, or 34.2 per cent.

Group entities Dabwali Transport (15.4 per cent), Falcon Properties (4.57 per cent) and Sukhbir Singh HUF (5.47 per cent) were the other major shareholders.

For the year ended March 2015, Orbit made a profit of Rs 18.84 crore (Rs 188.4 million) on revenues of over Rs 416 crore (Rs 4.16 billion).

Even by conservative estimates, the properties owned by these companies, which include The Oberoi in Gurgaon, are estimated to be worth over Rs 800 crore (Rs 8 billion).

About a quarter of its earnings also come from the transport business.

Orbit Resorts owns 5.35 per cent in Metro Eco Green Resort, which owns Sukhvilas. It also owns over 99 per cent in Orbit Aviation and Gurbaz Media, besides shares in the UK and US arms of G-Next Media.

Badal owned Rs 3.94 crore (Rs 39.4 million) worth of shares in Dabwali Transport. The company filings show he owned 436,293 shares, or a 99.7 per cent stake, as on September 28, 2015. The company had reserves of Rs 56.36 crore (Rs 563.6 million).

Of the tangible assets of Rs 40 crore (Rs 400 million), about Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) were in buses, which ply across the state.

It reported a profit of Rs 11.05 crore (Rs 110.5 million) on revenue of Rs 68 crore (Rs 680 million) in 2014-2015.

Lorry bookings accounted for Rs 58.48 crore (Rs 584.8 million) of this revenue.

It had investments in shares of other group companies such as Orbit Resorts, Metro Eco Green Resorts, Punjab Animal Breeders and Taj Travels.

The Badal family also runs G-Next Media which owns the PTC Group of channels -- PTC News, PTC Punjabi, Chak De -- besides PTC Motion Pictures, a film company. But this company does not figure in the affidavit: G-Next is held by Gurbaz Media which is a subsidiary of Orbit Resorts.

Badal's liabilities totalled Rs 41 crore (Rs 410 million), of which about Rs 11 crore (Rs 110 million) was owed to State-owned banks.

N Sundaresha Subramanian
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