Noida land allotment scam: Massive irregularities that ran through successive governments
For years, land allotments and real estate deals in Noida have been mired in various controversies. The Performance Audit Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) of India on Land Acquisition and Allotment of Properties in Noida laid on the floor of the Legislative Assembly of UP in December 2021 is the first Audit report of the C&AG since the jurisdiction of the audit of Noida and three other development authorities were entrusted to the C&AG in July 2017.
However, a veil has been drawn over the report, which is the first authoritative report on the functioning of the Noida Authority. In spite of repeated requests, the jurisdiction of the audit of the Noida Authority was not accorded by the previous governments. It was the Yogi 1.0 government that finally decided to entrust the jurisdiction of audit of the Noida Authority to the C&AG as per the constitutional requirement in July 2017. Therefore, in the public interest, the UP government is expected to take corrective measures and prompt action on the exhaustive 461 pages audit report.
The C&AG Audit report has highlighted widespread corruption, undue favouritism to private firms, arbitrariness, collusion between officials and builders in the functioning of the Noida Authority in the allotment of plots during the period 2005-2018, leading to losses to the tune of tens of thousands of crores of rupees to the Noida Authority / Government, besides causing distress and despair to lakhs of homebuyers.
The period of the audit covered 2005-06 to 2017-18, i.e., the regime of four Chief Ministers – Mulayam Singh Yadav (2005-2007), Mayawati (2007-2012), Akhilesh Yadav (2012-2017) and Yogi Adityanath (2017-2018) – shows that the land and real estate mafia has been operating with impunity during the reign of all these different governments in UP.
During the period 2005-06 to 2017-18, the Noida Authority had allotted 2,761 properties measuring 188.34 lakh sqm under Group Housing (GH), Commercial, Sports City, Institutional, Farm House (FH) and Industrial categories at the cost of Rs 39,443.41 crore excluding industrial plots cost. Out of allotment of 188.34 lakh sqm, allotment for industries constituted only 18.38 per cent while remaining 81.62 per cent was for others i.e. GH: 37.72 per cent, Commercial: 8.94 per cent, Sports City: 17.07 per cent, Institutional: 8.14 per cent and FH: 9.75 per cent. Nearly half of the total allotment of plots was made only in two years (2009-2011) with an allotment of 89.54 lakh sqm.
The Noida Authority acquired 80 per cent of the land under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 applicable upto December 2013, providing a standard justification of industrial development for invoking the urgency clause, which enabled the Collector to dispense with the rights of landowners in respect of hearing on objections to proposed land acquisition. The C&AG stated that on the one hand, Noida Authority claimed urgency in acquisition of land while on the other, made inordinate administrative delays ranging from 11 to 46 months in submission of the final proposals for land acquisition.
53.34% plots were allocated on subsidised/administrative rates
The Authority allotted the plots for GH, Commercial and Sports City on a competitive bid basis (63.73% of allotments) to the highest bidders against fixed Reserve Price (RP), while Institutional, FH and Industrial plots were allotted at the fixed administrative prices based on the interviews conducted by Plot Allotment Committee (PAC). Further, RP of plots for Sports City and fixed price for FH, Institutional and Industrial purposes was kept significantly lower than the RPs kept for GH or Commercial plots, i.e. after excluding many types of costs incurred by the Authority.
As a result, the Noida Authority, in effect, allotted only 46.66% plots through competitive bidding based on market rates whereas 53.34% plots were allocated on subsidised/administrative rates to private companies/firms.
Group Housing (GH) Projects
Rigging of bids through collusion of the bidders
The Noida Authority made 67 allotments of GH plots during the audit period. Of these, 49 allotments (73 per cent) were made during the period 2008-09 to 2010-11. In 42 of the 49 allotments, only two bids were received, of which in 15 pairs of applicants for 15 plots, the participating bidders were the same or of the same group. In nine of these cases, one allotment was made to each bidder, while in the remaining six cases, the allotments were made to one bidder only.
The C&AG has found that the bid prices in all cases were very close to the RP fixed by Noida Authority. In 12 cases, the winner had bid less than two per cent higher than the RP fixed for the plots. Thus, in 15 allotments of plots valuing Rs 2,611.36 crore, bid rigging and collusion between the bidders were detected. The beneficiaries involved were Prateek Buildtech Pvt Ltd: 3 plots, Mahagun India Private Ltd: 2 Plots, Amrapali group: 2 plots, Supertech Ltd: 2 plots, Logix Infratech Pvt Ltd: 2 plots, Assotech Ltd, Purvanchal Construction Works Pvt Ltd, Manisha Projects Private Limited and TGB Infrastructure Pvt Ltd: 1 plot each. At least 10 out of the 15 plots had dues of Rs 1625 crores even after ten years of allotment.
The C&AG has further suspected the rigging of competition through the use of group companies as competitors by two bidders, i.e. Assotech Limited and Supertech Limited, and felt that the sanctity of the tender process was compromised and hence the entire process was questionable. Therefore, the technical bidding of both the bidders should have been cancelled and retendering should have been undertaken by the Noida Authority.
Allotments to Ineligible Companies
The C&AG has observed that in two cases, allotment of plots (GH 01 & 02, Sector-143) of more than two lakh sqm worth Rs 471.57 crore were made to Logix Group of companies in 2011, which failed to even qualify the technical eligibility criteria of a turnover of Rs 200 crore from real estate development activities. In both cases, the turnover of bidder ranged between 52 to 60 percent of required turnover and therefore their bids should have been outrightly rejected.
The Authority also allotted three commercial builders plots to the ineligible Logix Group of companies at the cost of Rs 1680.93 crore in 2010-2011 even when they failed to meet the technical eligibility criteria because their consortiums lacked the required minimum turnover of Rs 200 crore from real estate development activities. In addition, the Authority allotted another plot of Sport City (SC-01/150) of 225 acre (907987.92 sqm) in Sector 150 in May 2011 to the same ineligible Logix group at the cost of Rs 1094 crores. Thus, the Logix group of companies (promoted by Shakti Nath and his family) with a turnover of less than Rs 200 crores from actual development activities were allotted 2 GH plots, 3 Commercial builders plots and a Sports City plot at the cost of Rs 3246.50 crore during 2010-2011. Logix group had an outstanding due of Rs 5840 crores as of 31 March, 2020.
As per the Audit report, the modus operandi followed by the Logix group was to submit bids for each plot through a separate consortium (of 5-10 subsidiary /associate companies) constituted specifically for each scheme launched by the Authority and after the allotment of the plot, the key members of the consortium would exit and plots would be divided into sub-plots and allotted to subsidiaries, who in turn would sell/transfer the sub-plots to third parties. Shakti Nath had constituted more than 50 subsidiary companies during 2009-12, in which Meena Nath and/or Vikram Nath were also directors. Shakti Nath is presently director in 33 companies, Meena Nath in 43 companies and Vikram Nath in 16 companies.
Commercial properties include builder plots, plots for Sports Cities, small builder plots, built-up shops, plots for petrol pumps amongst others. During 2005-2018, the Noida Authority made 320 allotments in the commercial properties category, with land measuring 48,98,440.47 sqm at the cost of Rs 25,264 crore through 41 closed-ended schemes. 67.03 per cent of these plots of land amounting to 32,83,187 sqm was allocated for Sports City (four allotments) and 32.46 per cent for builder plots (40 allotments). 52.60 per cent of the Commercial properties area (25.76 lakh sqm) was allotted in 2010-11 alone.
Allotment to a few select groups
The Audit found that about 80 per cent of the total allotments in the commercial category plots measuring 39,10,376 sqm were made to only three groups of companies. Wave group of companies of late Ponty Chadha, 3C group of companies led by Vidur Bharadwaj, Surpreet Singh Suri & Nirmal Singh and Logix Group of companies led by Shakti Nath during 2008-2011.
Wave (Late Ponty Chadha) group of companies
Wave Infratech Ltd and Flora & Fauna Land Development Pvt Ltd were allotted prime commercial properties/builders plots of 6,63,104 sqm (42 percent Builder plots of all commercial allotments done in 2005-2018) at the cost of Rs 6570 crores in the heart of Noida (Sector 25A/32 sectors) in 2010-2011. However, due to the change in the government in March 2012 and the death of Ponty Chadha in November 2012, most of these projects were not completed, and they either surrendered a substantial chunk of land (454131.63 sqm) in December 2016 under the Project Settlement Policy (PSP) of the government or the Authority cancelled (108421.13 sqm) the allotment of the plots (February 2021) due to non-payment of the dues/instalments. Wave Group of Companies had dues worth Rs 4425 crore as of 31 March, 2020.
3C group of companies
Three C (3C) group of companies under the holding company Three C Infra Pvt Ltd, incorporated in July 2009, were allotted 3 GH plots of 3,84,295 sqm of Rs 860.66 crore, 4 Commercial builder’s plots of sqm at the cost of Rs 2095.45 crore and two Sport City plots of 20,32,747.72 sqm (502.29 acre) at the cost of Rs 3428.58 crore. Thus, 3C group of companies were allotted 3 GH plots, 4 Commercial builders plots and 2 Sport City plots at the cost Rs 6384.69 crore during 2010-2014.
If this was not enough, a national newspaper based on RTI documents had reported that the directors of 3C group of companies and their family members were also allotted eight farm house plots of 10,000 sqm each in prime sectors of the Noida city at throw-away prices in 2010-11. The 3C group had outstanding dues of Rs 4694 crores as of 31 March, 2020.
The 3C group of companies also followed the same route of bidding through a consortium of subsidiary companies in grabbing the plots. The Directors had constituted a large number of subsidiaries/associate companies during the period 2008-2012, and they bid through consortiums led by different subsidiaries. The Directors have since resigned from most of them. As per MCA records, Vidur Bharadwaj is presently a Director in 4 active companies only, but during 2008-2012, he was a Director in more than 100 companies. Supreet Singh Suri and Nirmal Singh were also directors in more than 100 companies during this period.
Undue favour to builders by using net worth for multiple allotments
The Noida Authority evaluated the net worth of the applicant bidders individually case-wise, overlooking the fact that the builders had applied for many plots in different schemes of the Authority. As a result, they failed to determine the net worth requirement in aggregate in case of multiple applications of an applicant company. Resultantly, several companies obtained more than one allotment of plot by leveraging their net worth multiple times.
The C&AG found 10 GH applicants were allowed to use their net worth more than once to garner 26 (sub-divided into 43 plots) allotments worth Rs 4,293.35 crore from Noida Authority. Though the previous allotments to these applicants were known to the Authority, they failed to take cognisance and allotted 26 plots to these firms. Supertech Ltd and Gaursons Ltd obtained four plots each, Ultra Homes and Gulshan HomZ got three plots each, Prateek Buildtech, Amrapali Homes, Unitech Ltd, Ajnara India, Agrawal Associates and Bihariji Ispat one each. Further, these beneficiaries didn’t pay the cost of the plots even after ten years of allotment of the plot and had dues of Rs 4441 as of 31.3.2021.
Therefore, it was no wonder that many applicants failed to complete their projects even after ten years of allotments of plots. Non-completion of the projects by the builders has resulted in severe distress to home buyers as 22,653 flats out of 54,987 flats sanctioned in the above 43 projects could not be completed till March 2021.
Repeated Relaxation given to Builders
Over the years, Noida Authority relaxed many important terms and conditions like financial qualifications, criterion of net worth, solvency and total turnover, removal of provision of escrow account, bank guarantee among others. The Authority also kept on reducing the payment of upfront allotment money from 40 per cent of the land premium in 2006-07 in phases to as low as 10 per cent in 2009-10. In 2009, the Noida Authority took further steps regarding reschedulement of eight-year repayment term with a two-year moratorium, subdivision of plots (above 40,000 sqm), transfer of sub-plots, deposit of 10 percent of lease premium till the execution of lease deed to provide relief to the allottees in view of the 2008 recession/economic conditions.
The Authority, however, continued these relaxations indefinitely. As a result, the allottees were required to make the payment of the lease premium/cost of the plots over a period of ten years from the date of allotment. This reduction substantially reduced the financial commitment of the developers and enabled them to garner more or bigger plots and launch more and more projects without completing the existing ones. Further, these plots were subdivided and illegally transferred/sold to third parties on premium through changes in the share-holding of the subsidiary companies.
Payment schedule of plots not in sync with completion schedule of project
The decision of the Noida Authority to increase the payment schedule of the plots to ten years from the date of allotment was also not in sync with the tenure of completion of the projects by the promoters. Thus, the promoters obtained the cost of the flats, including the plot cost from the homebuyers within 2/3 years of launch of the projects and diverted the funds elsewhere. Resultantly, the homebuyers also suffered badly.
The Authority also did not follow up the relaxations by closely monitoring the progress of the projects on the allotted plots or payment of premium/cost of the plots by the allottees. Instead, the Authority kept on granting further reschedulements to the developers, which made the matter worse as there was no incentive for timely payment of instalments, causing distress among the homebuyers.
These promoters had committed to complete their projects in 3-5 years to the homebuyers and took a significant chunk (75-80%) of the cost of the flats within a year or two from the customers. The builders, in turn, garnered more allotments as they enjoyed greater leverage to obtain bigger plots and to take loans from banks on the back of deposits of smaller amounts of down-payment.
Thus, these rebates and relaxations didn’t help homebuyers as smaller firms took advantage of the relaxations, garnered bigger plots, sub-divided the plots through their subsidiaries, and sold the plots on premium to the companies that had not participated in the bidding and didn’t meet the relaxed technical eligibility criterion.
The Authority, on one hand, kept on relaxing the terms and conditions of allotment of plots while, on the other, did not take any action to reduce the sizes of the plots for bidding and instead allotted bigger GH plots from 50,000 sqm to 6,00,000 sqm during the period. This enabled the builders to garner more plots at an initial deposit of 10 per cent. It was stated that during 2009-10 to 2010-11, 81 plots were allotted, out of which, 29 projects only were issued occupancy certificates while 24 got partial occupancy certificates.
Undue benefit to builders by allowing exit of key member of consortium
The Noida Authority, however allowed the exit of the key consortium members having substantial net worth, which was taken into consideration for making allotment of the plots in 11 cases (within one year of allotment in five cases), leaving the plots to companies who by themselves had not participated in the bidding and were incapable of qualifying for allotment. In five instances viz, Prateek Realtors, Megitech Infra Developers, Perfect Propbuild, Panchsheel Exotica and AIMS Max Gardenia, percentage of networth of exiting consortium member was more than 80 percent of the consortium, whereas in the case of Logix Group (Two Cases), Magitech Infradevelopers, Sunshine Infrawell and Imperial Housing, key consortium members exited within a year of allotment of plots.
Thus, the builders came together for a transitory period and helped the otherwise ineligible entities to qualify for allotment and, after the formal allotment was in place, exited the consortium. The exit of critical members of the consortium in a matter of merely a few months/years after allotment in multiple cases, indicated a total lack of regulatory control by the Authority. This resulted in massive distress to home buyers as 10,769 flats out of 27,370 flats sanctioned in six of the above projects have not been completed until 31 March 2020, besides the accumulation of dues of thousands of crores rupees amongst the beneficiaries.
Subdivision of plots
As a one-time measure, the Noida Authority allowed sub-division of plots in 2009 as part of their recession relief measures for existing allottees facing financial problems up to March 2011. But they continued the concession by incorporating it in its subsequent schemes also. Further, this facility was extended from the nascent stage of the bidding process just after approval of allotment and even before the execution of lease deed, resulting in the loss of the sanctity of the entire tendering system.
Thus, a group of companies could come together as a consortium, qualify the financial criteria on joint credentials (even of a subsidiary or holding companies) and form a SPC for executing the project. Once the formal allotment was made, these companies could then subdivide the plot and have separate lease deeds for each part, which effectively was the end of the association as each sub-divided part had a separate payment schedule.
The facility thus introduced did not have any restrictions, and as such gave a carte blanche to the builders to subdivide the plots in a manner they deemed fit and the Authority accepted the subdivisions without paying any heed to the capability of the builders to execute the projects on the subdivided portions. As a result, 67 allotments made by Noida from 2005-06 to 2016-17 have been subdivided into 113 properties.
The C&AG has pointed out that in 12 cases, the allotted plots were subdivided into 32 sub-plots. Of them, in 24 cases, the value of the subdivided plots exceeded the net worth of the sub-lessees. It was observed that in these 24 cases, the sub-lessee obtained plots ranging from 1.16 to 14 times their net worth. In eight of these cases, the net worth of the sub-lessee was less than Rs 1 crore each, and yet they were permitted sub-lease of plots worth Rs 501.62 crore in aggregate. It is thus evident that the Noida Authority’s decision to allow sub-division of plots without having any regulatory mechanism in place to ensure completion of projects served effectively only as a backdoor entry for the transfer of valuable property into the hands of ineligible builders.
Further, the Authority allowed ten transfers in the 6,00,000 sqm GH Project ECO City in Sector 75, allotted to AIMS Max Gardenia in June 2010. In these cases, the allottee sub-leased the sub-plots during 2012-2013 without depositing the up-to-date dues of Rs 124.70 crore and Rs 208.40 crore as of December 2011 and March 2013 respectively. In further violation of its own rules, the Noida Authority also failed to levy transfer charges of Rs 15.46 crore on the plots sub-leased, thereby causing undue favour to the private firms. Besides, the very purpose of allotting the entire sector to a firm was also defeated.
Inordinate Delay in completion and spiralling dues
All the rebates and relaxations have, however, not helped the home buyers. The C&AG has pointed out that out of the 113 projects, 71 projects (63%) were either incomplete or partially completed even after ten years of allotment as on 31.3.2020. Out of the 1,30,005 flats sanctioned, Occupancy Certificate (OC) was not issued for 44 per cent of flats, due to which tens of thousands of home-buyers who invested their lives’ savings and hard-earned money in the purchase of flats still remained deprived of possession of their apartments. Against allotment of plots valued at Rs 14,050.73 crore during 2005-06 to 2017-18, dues of the Noida Authority as of 31 March 2020 have spiralled to Rs 18,633.21 crore.
Elusive Sport Cities of Noida
The Noida Authority allotted 4 Sports City plots measuring 33,44,193 sqm (826.34 acre) at the lease premium of Rs 5597.92 crores to consortiums of Logix group, 3C group and ATS Home Pvt Ltd. Out of this, 70 per cent (578 acres) land was reserved for sports infrastructure including three golf courses of nine holes each, an international cricket stadium along with tennis courts, swimming pools and other sports facilities. The plots for Sports Cities were allotted without preliminary consultation with national/international bodies ascertaining the required technical specifications.
The Authority, therefore, did not prescribe any specification for the provision of sports infrastructure. They also didn’t do any due diligence, and the reasonableness of the rates/bids quoted by the allottees was also not examined. Thus, none of the envisioned sports infrastructure projects have been completed in the last ten years though the terms and conditions prescribed that the establishment of sports infrastructure would be given priority in Sport City and only afterwards other residential and commercial projects would be undertaken. However, two residential projects have not only been taken up but they were also partially completed.
Though the terms and conditions prescribed in the brochures permitted subdivision of the plots meant for only residential and commercial use (30% of the Sport City plots), the Authority approved subdivision of the entire plot (826 acres) of the four Sport City projects into 81 sub-plots thereby destroying the whole concept of development of integrated Sports City. Thus, against the eligibility of a 30% plot for subdivision, the entire area of 33,44,193 sqm was subdivided into 81 parts in flagrant violation of the scheme’s conditions. The 578 acres of land earmarked for sports infrastructure in four sports cities was too subdivided into 34 subplots, thereby making the objectives of Integrated Sports infrastructure like nine-hole golf course in three sports cities in Sectors-78/79 and 150, international cricket stadium in Plot SC-02 in Sector 150 unachievable.
RERA failed to detect limitations on 70% of Sports City plots, endangering the interests of Home-buyers
UP RERA has registered several residential and commercial projects of the allottees/sub-allottees without noting the limitations on the use of 70 per cent of the plot of land for integrated sports infrastructure as per the lease agreement executed by the Authority. As none of the major sport infrastructure projects have been undertaken till date and none of the nine-hole golf courses and international cricket stadiums are likely to be completed in the near future, the homebuyers of those residential projects being constructed may face issues in getting their flats registered. Incidentally, most Directors of 4 SPCs have since resigned and left. The decision of the Noida Authority to approve the use of increased FAR of the entire area of the sport city in residential/commercial projects of 81 allottees/sub-allottees without ensuring the construction of integrated sports infrastructure in 70% area of each Sports City project is injudicious and highly improper. It would affect the future prospects of the homebuyers of these residential projects as their flats may not be registered unless envisioned integrated sports infrastructure in 70% area of each sports city project is completed.
Incentives of Rs 8,643.61 crore didn’t yield results
Further, the C&AG has determined that the Noida Authority had given significant incentives of Rs 8,643.61 crore in terms of reduced pricing and allowance of extra FAR and GC to the three real estate developers for the development of sporting infrastructure as against the payment of Rs 5598 crores made for 826 acres of land. Keeping in view of the ongoing development of GH/commercial projects vis-vis little progress was observed in the development of sports infrastructure in the four Sports City projects in the last ten years, it would tantamount to providing undue benefit of Rs 8,643.61 crore to these three developers. Noida Authority, while allowing the builders to pursue GH/Commercial projects, abdicated its total responsibility towards completion of envisioned sports infrastructure projects.
Thus, the world-class sports infrastructure envisioned by the board in 2007 for holding national and international sports events failed to materialise even after a decade. Though the main objectives of the establishment of a Sports City have not been achieved, these developers have grabbed nearly 800 acres of prime land in the city at one-third of the market rate.
Discretionary allotment of Farm Houses at prime locations at throwaway prices
In 2009-2011, Noida Authority allotted 157 plots for farmhouses of 10,000 sqm each aggregating 18,37,340 sqm in prime sectors of Noida at one-fifth of market rates in an arbitrary manner, mostly to big business houses, influential real estate developers/ builders, politicians, prominent lawyers and their family members without following any transparent bidding process under schemes which did not have any objective criterion. Many companies, their Directors, and family members have cornered multiple plots at throwaway prices.
The C&AG has stated that multiple allotments to applicants on a single date were given, and front companies were used for the allotment of plots through different applications. There is evidence of dereliction of duty by the members of the PAC whereby fraudulent actions have been permitted by the officials of Noida.
Thus, the land of farmers acquired at a lower rate, invoking the urgency clause for industrial development, was allotted on a discretionary basis to affluent and influential individuals/companies at a highly subsidised rate.
Undue favours to Private firms
Noida Authority allotted 134 plots ranging from 1000-5000 sqm each, covering an area of 2,41,072 sqm at the rate of Rs 7800 per sqm for the corporate offices of the Private Companies/Firms in 2008-09, treating them as institutions rather than commercial profit-making firms. As these companies run on a commercial basis and earn profits, they should pay for the plot of land at a commercial rate. Even the Authority used to charge commercial rates from them earlier. However, the Authority changed the status to institutional in October 2008 thereby giving undue benefit of Rs 6600 per sqm to these private companies.
Therefore, the decision by the Authority to change the status of private companies to the institutional category was injudicious. Thus, the land of farmers acquired at a lower rate, invoking the urgency clause for industrial development, was allotted at a highly subsidised rate, thereby affording undue benefits of Rs 161.75 crore to 134 Private companies.
What the Government must do now
The government should immediately order an investigation by an SIT including a senior official of C&AG, IT and MCA or CBI into the functioning of the Noida Authority and punish all such officials who have colluded with the developers/builders in the illegal/irregular transactions over the years, as pointed out by the C&AG of India.
All allotments of plots where full premium/cost have not been paid within ten years of allotment of the plot should be cancelled, and the possession of the plots should be taken back.
All allottees who have illegally sold/transferred the plots/subplots to third parties in violation of the terms and conditions of the schemes should be prosecuted and proceeded against.
RERA should take immediate action to protect the interests of homebuyers of each residential project being developed in the four Sports City projects encompassing 826 acres of land in Sectors 78,79, 150 and 152.
RERA should also take a considered view on registration of such residential projects where there are specified conditions on the use of land.
All allotments of plots to private companies/firms should be done at market rates on a competitive bidding basis in the future.
Discretionary Allotments of multiple plots of farmhouses to affluent and influential persons/companies should be cancelled forthwith. In future, all such allotments should be done transparently at the market rate after following objective criteria.
The Authority Board should be mandated to monitor the progress of projects on each allotted plot quarterly and take remedial actions in time so that the prime objectives of the schemes are achieved.
RB Sinha, a 1983 batch Indian audit and accounts service officer, is a retired DG of the C&AG of India. He was a member of RERA, Bihar, during April 2018-December, 2021. Sinha has more than 35 years of experience in financial management and audit of government accounts.