The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the government to study the possibility of taking over beleaguered realty firm Unitech Ltd and completing its pending projects to protect the interest of the homebuyers, noting that the court lacked expertise in finance or real estate.
The apex court also ordered the withdrawal of all facilities given to Unitech promoters Sanjay Chandra and his brother Ajay Chandra, who have been lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail since August 2017 for allegedly siphoning off the homebuyers’ money. The court said the Chandra brothers should be treated like ordinary prisoners in accordance with the prison manual.
A two-judge Bench led by Justice D Y Chandrachud asked Attorney General KK Venugopal to render his assistance in the matter by convening a meeting at appropriate government levels and check whether Unitech's projects could be handed over to a state-owned company for completion.
The Bench also hinted at starting a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)-led probe against Unitech. “In the present state of affairs, the court is left with no other alternative but to hand over the investigation to the CBI,” it said.
So far, the Chandra duo was allowed a working space to try and negotiate with buyers and investors to raise money and complete the pending projects. The jail authorities had also been directed by the court to allow Sanjay Chandra's meetings with his company officials and lawyers so that he could raise money against the unencumbered assets of his company.
The two brothers were also enjoying the facilities of a computer with internet, printer, mattresses, high-quality foot mats, and regular supply of mineral water. An LED television, badminton rackets, and luxury mobile handsets were also found by an additional sessions judge during an inspection of their wards in the jail. All these privileges would now be taken away and they would have to live like ordinary inmates, the court said on Thursday.
On January 23, the apex court had refused to grant bail to the promoters as they had not complied with its October 30, 2017 order directing them to deposit Rs 750 crore. Earlier, in December, it had ordered a forensic audit of the company’s books and assets. Accounting firm Grant Thornton had been asked to carry out the audit of the company and all its subsidiaries beginning January 2006.
Later, during a hearing in February, the court had expressed its displeasure after Grant Thornton said that it had received only about 45 per cent data from the company’s officials. The court had then warned the company of initiating contempt proceedings for obstructing judicial work, and said all data including those of ex-employees must be handed over to the forensic auditors.
On Thursday, following a request by the auditors, the court asked the banks to provide bank statements of the promoters as well as the company in two weeks. The court also warned that if there was any further delay, it would ask the CBI to take the data from them and hand it over to the auditors. Of the 16,000 homebuyers affected by Unitech’s pending projects, nearly 4,700 buyers want a complete refund, while the other 9,400-odd buyers want either refund or the flat.
In April 2017, Sanjay and Ajay Chandra were arrested by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Delhi Police. According to the sleuths of EOW, the Chandras were accused of duping buyers who had booked flats in their Greater Noida residential project to the tune of Rs 35 crore.