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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Huge litigation costs incurred, but no justice for the buyers

Over 400 people who booked flats in this project now frequent government offices and several courts where the hearings in the cases are on-going.

Written by Pallavi Singhal | Panchkula |
November 19, 2021 6:01:28 am
In a recent letter, written to the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, the association has alleged lapse on part of HRERA itself. (Representational)

IT HAS been a decade and half since over 400 people invested their money into the ‘Ess Vee Apartments’ project to be developed in Sector 20, Panchkula. After failing to hand over the houses, within three years, the company now fights an association of people who they duped. Despite the arrests after long fights by the senior citizens, the aggrieved are yet to get any relief in the matter.

The company, ‘Samar Estates’, completed over 11 housing projects between 1998 to 2003 and earned goodwill from the customers. It was in 2005-06 when the three directors launched their new project ‘ESS VEE Apartments’, and started the booking process. Bookings were taken between 2005 to 2014 with assurances that possession of flats will be delivered within 3 years. The project promised investors, mostly senior citizens and retired officials, a luxuriously developed society with spacious 3BHK homes. Later, many investors filed FIRs alleging a total fraud of more than Rs 300 crore.

Over 400 people who booked flats in this project now frequent government offices and several courts where the hearings in the cases are on-going. The fraud had come to light when the first FIR in the matter was registered on July 31, 2019. As many as 18 FIRs have since been filed against the accused at the Sector 20 police station, Panchkula.

‘Huge litigation costs, but no justice’
Pawan Rawal (63), a retired Indian Oil official who had booked a flat in 2011, now runs pillar to post in an attempt to get back all the money he had invested in the project. “I was lured by their fancy advertisments. I was still working and did not have time to enquire much into it. The directors had a good reputation as they had developed other such projects,” he said.

Rawal was working in Delhi at the time and wanted to shift to a more “peaceful location” for his retirement. “It was only at the end of my retirement that I realised that the project was not moving forward. It has been several years since then, and I, along with others, have been trying to find a solution which is being delayed by our excruciatingly slow and uncaring justice system.”

Now residing in Delhi, Pawan is one among many incurring high litigation costs and time-consuming travels to court hearings.

“Most of the aggrieved allottees are now senior citizens in the age group of 60-75 years. We had very high hopes of getting justice when HRERA started functioning in Panchkula in 2018. All the hopes of getting justice from this judicial body have diminished due to frequent omissions and commissions in orders passed by HRERA officials. None of the petitioners has got any relief from H-RERA so far while incurring huge litigation costs and efforts,” said Pawan. A group of the victims, Ess Vee Home Buyers Association, has spent several lakhs on advocate fee.

alleged ‘unprofessionalism’ by HRERA
Despite the case running at HRERA Panchkula since 2019, no action was taken against the accused till this year. It was on March 26, that after the intervention of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the prime accused Vinod Bagai was arrested and bailed on medical grounds in the fraud case. The accused’s wife Sunita Bagai and relative Virender Bagai were arrested on February 19 and remained in judicial custody. While Sunita Bagai was granted bail recently, Vinod’s brother Virender continues to be lodged at the Ambala jail.

In a recent letter, written to the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, the association has alleged lapse on part of HRERA itself.

The letter reads, “A large number of allottees aggrieved with the promoter approached H-RERA for justice. Most of the petitions were filed in 2018 and HRERA finally passed decrees for refund of the payment made to promoters by the petitioners along with applicable interest. A majority of the cases were finalized in 2019 by awarding refund orders. Owing to noncompliance of the refund orders by the promoters, the complainants were forced to file execution petitions in 2019. A series of hearings have taken place before HRERA in execution matters but nothing has been concluded logically because of the unprofessional way of working of the Authority.”

Alleging “unprofessionalism” on part of HRERA, the letter has cited several instances wherein the show-cause notices and arrest warrants issued were complied with, stating that the HRERA repeatedly made ‘errors’ in the orders passed.

“During the hearing on February 26, 2020 it was informed by the Authority that the arrest warrants could not be issued for want-of-detail information about payments made by the complainants and interest accrued thereon.

The complainants were surprised and shocked to learn the reason for non-issuance of arrest warrants since details were already furnished by them as per the prescribed format provided by the Authority. On the same day after the hearing, the complainants met the officials in the office of HRERA and, on verification, the required details were found in the respective files of the complainants.

If availability of the detail working was mandatory for issuance of arrest warrants and the concerned official was not able to locate the said vital document, the complainant or their counsel could have been contacted,” the letter reads.

“The innocent allottees in the project invested their hard-earned money in the subject project but none of the allottees could get a booked flat, despite waiting for the same for 15 years. The allottees were desperately awaiting constitution of HRERA with the hope getting justice through this fast-track court. The lack of professionalism in the working of the Authority has terribly disappointed the allottees. None of the petitioners have got justice from the Authority even after filing the case more than three years ago,” the letter has said, while requesting the Chief justice to review the functioning of HRERA.

The FIRs
The FIRs by victims allege a total fraud of more than 300 crores in the matter. Allegations of fraud by misappropriating and diverting the funds collected from the all the allottees have also been leveled against the accused.

All FIRs state that the victims had been lured by several advertisements, made by accused Vinod Bagai and two others, to invest in a 3BHK at a cost of Rs 67.7 lakh at Project ESS VEE apartments. Having waited several years, an association of the aggrieved started filing the FIRs in 2019.

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