Coming up on 18 acres of land in Chandigarhs periphery is Punjab deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) President Sukhbir Singh Badals latest business venture: a five star resort. The project-a collaboration of Sukhbirs company Metro Eco Green Resorts Ltd. and The Oberoi- replaces a failed hatchery venture of the Badals.
The construction of the resort began on the site a few months ago,though the approval for the construction of this resort on privately owned forest land was given by the union ministry of environment and forests,government of India in 2009.
The land was initially bought by the Badals in the 1980s to run a hatchery. A company- Continental Hatcheries- with a capital of Rs 15 lakh was to run it. In August 1990,Sukhbir took over the company as managing director and Raghubinder Singh,a Karnal resident and one of the original signatories of the companys articles of association was taken in as the director. But the hatchery did not seemed to have functioned and was shut down.
In 2008,a year after the Badals came back to power in the state,the company was revived and a high end resort was planned on the land. Sukhbir resigned from the post of the MD of the company and Raghujit Singh,Raghubinders father was taken in as Director. The companys name was changed to Metro Eco Green Resorts Private Limited.
The land,almost 18 acres in village Pallanpur in district Mohali was locked under sections 5 and 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) 1900 which disallows the use of the land for any purpose,including agriculture. Following a 2004 judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court areas under PLPA also invited the provisions of the Forest (conservation) Act,1980 rendering such lands almost impossible to use by the owners. However in 2007,a general delisting of the areas under PLPA was allowed by the Supreme Courts Centrally Empowered Committee on environment,but with a condition that these lands will be used only for agricultural purposes by the owner. Commercial use of such lands was banned.
In September 2008,the company applied to the states forest department for permission to set up an eco- tourism project. The case was forwarded to the union ministry of environment and forests for approval.The government of India came back asking the company to comply with its conditions for such approvals. These included the company buying an equal area of land anywhere in Punjab and handing it over to the state forest department. Metro Eco Green bought 18 acres of land in Pathankot and gave it to the state forest department. A compliance report was sent to the government of India in February 2009 and in March the union ministry approved the setting up of the resort.
In 2009,the government of India permitted Sukhbirs company- Metro Eco Green Resorts Limited- to take out this land from the purview of the PLPA and use it for the setting up of a resort under its policy to promote eco-tourism.
The share capital of the company was then increased from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore. The same year,Harish Dutta,a Mohali resident was included as the third director of the company and in 2010 the company was changed from a private limited company to a limited company.
The construction at the site began in full swing two months ago. Besides a two-storey central building the resort will have 60 single storey cottages and tents spread across the 18 acres.
The balance sheets of the company show that Sukhbir Badal has invested in the company using funds from his other business venture Orbit Resorts Limited and GNext Media.
While Sukhbir and his MP wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal are the majority share owners in the company,Sukhbirs mother Surinder Kaur Badal and Dabawali Transport,another of the Badals company also hold share in Eco Green Resorts. In its records the company is currently showing a loss of Rs 40 lakh.
In May this year the company resolved to increase the authorized capital of the company from Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 5 crore. In June two of the companys directors Raghubinder Singh and Raghubir Singh resigned and Mohammad Jameel a resident of Muktsar was taken in as the new director.
Resort in collaboration with The Oberoi
When contacted Sukhbir Badal said the resort was coming up in collaboration with The Oberois. Since I am not a director in the company I dont know the day to day working of the company. You can contact one of the directors for a version, he said talking to The Indian Express. When contacted Harish Dutta,the companys director said the entire project was above board. We have all the requisite permissions from the government of India ministry of environment and forests. It routinely gives permissions for such projects. Our company has paid the Punjab government over Rs 50 lakh for change of land use and have got our building plans approved from the relevant authorities, said Dutta.