The income-tax department today raided Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawatis favourite businessman Ponty Chadha,carrying out simultaneous searches at 19 of his premises in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
The raids,in Lucknow,Moradabad and Noida among other places in UP,and on his farmhouse-home in Delhis Chhattarpur and premises in Lajpat Nagar,began at 10.30 am and were ongoing till late on Wednesday night. I-T officials said teams had been sent to Chandigarh and Punjab,where Chadha has extensive liquor and realty businesses.
The action against Chadha,the first by a central agency,comes just a week before the first phase of polling in UP,and ahead of his daughters wedding,planned at the Chhattarpur farmhouse on February 9 and 10. The high profile businessman is known for lavish celebrations,with an array of politicians in attendance.
Sources close to Chadha said the businessman had anticipated the raids on his premises.
An I-T officer said gas cutters and banking professionals had been called in to open a currency chest discovered in the basement of Noidas Centrestage mall,owned by Chadha. I-T department sources said the operations had been carried out following specific inputs on tax evasion by Chadhas companies.
The success story of the Chadha family began three decades ago when Pontys father Kulwant Singh Chadha made his first foray into the sugar crushing business in UP. Ponty was known for his proximity first to former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and,later,to Mulayam Singh Yadav when he was chief minister of UP. He became close to Mayawati subsequently and,in 2009,bagged the entire wholesale and part retail contract for liquor in UP.
I-T officials said they were acting on the basis also of reports of mispricing of liquor consignments,and looking at the possibility of the illegal sale of liquor by certain firms in the run-up to the UP polls.
The properties of two of Chadhas alleged associates,Lalit Kapoor and Gurjeet Kochhar,were also searched in Delhi. The two men were likely to be questioned about certain transactions,especially over the past few months,I-T sources said.
In a rare interview with The Indian Express in 2009,Ponty had recalled that a strong electric shock he suffered in a childhood accident had left him partially disabled,and that made his family anxious about his future. My parents would worry how I would pull through in life. But my family now tells me that I have done enough business to last several generations.
During the same conversation,he had said,Personally,I dont have much interest in the liquor business. It is managed by around 20 of my uncles and cousins. But the problem is that whenever any one of them wins a fresh bid at a liquor auction,only Ponty Chadhas name appears in the press.
Despite such reluctance to be described as a liquor baron,Chadha had monopolised the liquor trade in Punjab during Amarinders chief ministership from 2002-2007. The UP liquor coup in 2009 catapulted him to national headlines.
Cases have repeatedly come up in the Punjab and Haryana High Court by local liquor traders alleging the flouting of excise department norms to help Chadha clinch auctions. In several cases,the court has ordered re-auctions. One such case is scheduled to come up in the Supreme Court tomorrow.
Chadhas younger brothers Rajwinder and Hardeep manage the distillery,sugar crushing and paper branches of the fast-growing family empire. Chadha himself is in the high-stakes real estate and construction business.
This business had its first breakthrough in a 1993 contract for construction of a bridge over the Gandak in Bihar. A decade later,the groups real estate assets basket includes townships,city centres,multiplexes,shopping malls and residential schools.
While Noida remains the groups favourite playground,with a 152-acre city centre being the latest project to be announced,real estate and commercial properties owned by the Chadha group are spread over Mohali,Amritsar,Agra,Meerut,Jaipur,Dehradun,Jammu,Bareilly,Lucknow and Moradabad.
Last year the company announced Chadha as the chairman and managing director of the consolidated company rechristened as Waves Incorporated.
(With Maneesh Chhibber)