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  Opinion   Oped  14 Mar 2018  The house that Mr Biswas is still building

The house that Mr Biswas is still building

The writer is a poet, novelist and journalist based in New Delhi, and his latest collection of poems is Available Light.
Published : Mar 14, 2018, 1:49 am IST
Updated : Mar 14, 2018, 1:49 am IST

The case has finally landed in the Supreme Court, where the last four hearings have been put off for reasons that are not quite clear.

Manoj Gaur (Photo: Twitter)
 Manoj Gaur (Photo: Twitter)

Like 35,000 other customers, some eight years ago, this writer put all his savings in a flat in Noida. The place was called Wish Town, and was owned by Mr Manoj Gaur’s Jaypee group. I said Jaypee group in general because no one I know seems quite clear about which company in the group fully owns what and when. Well, from these gullible middle class folk, Mr Gaur collected nearly Rs 25,000 crores. He is yet to build the flats.

The case has finally landed in the Supreme Court, where the last four hearings have been put off for reasons that are not quite clear. In between, the court set up an amicus curiae, who in turn opened an online site where the gypped customers can state, after duly filling in the details, if they want possession or refund. This sounds like hope; except that no one is convinced.

And for a reason, which I take to be a typically Indian one in nature: no one sets much store by any institution any longer. That includes the media, the judiciary, Parliament and the executive. If this newspaper did a survey among its readers of their trust quotient in institutions and compared the results with any previous period’s, it would be a safe bet that primarily due to corruption and false promises, doubt stalks faith. This is likely to exact a heavy price for Indian democracy. It is a lack of faith in leaders and the establishment that often leads to riots and violence, and military rule.

To get back to the specifics of the Jaypee swindle. The Rs 25,000 crores that Mr Gaur’s company collected from taxpayers turned so many tills, that now no one is quite sure where it has disappeared. That there has been no forensic auditing into the company yet doesn’t help either. To those who are familiar with Delhi and Noida (which though a part of the National Capital Region, is a part of Uttar Pradesh), land and power go hand in hand.

A few years ago, when Ms Mayawati was in power in UP, insider reports of how much money changed hands between the building cartels and politicians is a matter of folklore. The expressway, built by the Gaurs, that links Noida to Agra, and the lands on either side of the road, were apportioned to a handful of families.

The wheel turned, and the Yadavs came to power. The change in government did nothing to sway the grip of the families. They continued to invest in whatever they wanted; the consumers’ bank rolled them; the banks backed them without collateral; and political parties took their pound of flesh.

For the 35,000-odd families, this has been a financial and emotional  nightmare. Their money is gone, their life planning is in disarray; some continue to pay both EMI and rent; thousands of children face the prospect of whittled-down education as their parents’ investments have vanished without a trace; some families have split owing to the financial pressure; a few have died of stress.

And all of it is happening for nearly a decade right in the courtyard of the Union government. And to think that in London, when Grenfell Tower caught fire in 2017, the government handed out a total of £202,000 to the 180 families directly affected by the disaster. In Noida, the administration has disowned all responsibility by maintaining a surreptitious silence.

Last year, finance minister Arun Jaitley, also in charge of the very strategic department of company affairs (after all, business houses fund elections), instituted the NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal), which decided that the Jaypee group could file for bankruptcy, which meant they had no liability to pay any aggrieved consumer till matters were resolved. Nor could anyone take the group to court till the issue of bankruptcy was decided at some far point in time.

At this stage, some of the consumers filed a case in the Supreme Court against the NCLT order; and the court found the ruling wrong. Now the Consumers vs Jaypee case is dragging its way around the Supreme Court — with the last four hearings cancelled. At the beginning of the hearing, an indignant court had asked the group to deposit Rs 2,000 crores as a kind of gesture of their good intentions. This was later reduced drastically.

This writer, along with many others, have participated in several protest marches to draw the attention of the authorities to a monumental scam (in comparison, the Nirav Modi scam is less than half the size of the Jaypee ripoff), which can be only termed astounding in its protracted brazenness and general immunity from the law.

Along with thousands of others, I have physically gone to the concerned police stations and filed criminal FIRs against Mr Gaur. No action would be forthcoming. The Enforcement Directorate has been appealed to. No action. Every article that comes against the company is countered by yet another false, placebo article defending the group. Every minister in the Union Cabinet is aware of the scam; but not one of them has spoken out.

Weeks after the Gaurs filed for bankruptcy, frustrated consumers protested at the gates of the corporate office of the group, where a general body meeting was scheduled. The pauper-billionaires flew over the protesters in a private helicopter, entered through a back gate, and the general body meeting took place as if nothing was out of place.

The late John Kenneth Galbraith had once described India decades ago as a functioning anarchy. Some half a century later, nothing seems to have changed. It is the direct experience of this rather exhausted writer — how long can one fulminate and chastise against the system and its champions? — along with his fellow-fools that just about  every link in the political and legal chain, from top to bottom, is vulnerable to money. This includes the bureaucracy; specifically the Greater Noida Authority.

To add to the grim, dark humour of the Noida joke, once in a while, an administrative novice like the present UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, will parachute himself into the middle of the battlefield and order, say, 50,000 homes to be built in three months, as he did towards the end of last year. These orders come off and on, and no one pays much attention to them, least of all Mr Adityanath himself.

In a movie on the Wish Town tragedy, Mr Adityanath’s exhortatory interventions would perhaps afford a twisted, comic relief. How sad then that not one of the 30,000 spectators is likely to laugh?

Tags: jaypee group, manoj gaur