IN WHAT could be embarrassing for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, one of its newly inducted ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet in Maharashtra has been found to be closely associated with a company listed as a wilful defaulter by the Bank of Maharashtra.
Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar, Minister for Labour, Earthquake Rehabilitation and Ex-servicemen’s Welfare, is a guarantor for a loan that was a non-performing asset (NPA) and declared as a “fraud account” with an outstanding balance of Rs 49.29 crore owed to two state-owned banks — Bank of Maharashtra and Union Bank of India. Further, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) last year filed a chargesheet in a case of cheating lodged by the banks after finding that the mortgage deed papers for the loan had been tampered with.
The main accused in the chargesheet are Ashish Marwaha and Mahendra Jajoo, a current and a former director, respectively, on the board of Victoria Agro Food Processing Pvt Ltd. Nilangekar is also named by the CBI as an accused. The accused have been charged under sections 409 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code for siphoning off funds and cheating. Also accused in the case are other guarantors and an official of the sub-registrar’s office in Nilanga. The minister was elected from the Nilanga Assembly constituency in Latur.
Incorporated in 2008, Victoria Agro’s distillery unit in Sakol, Latur, for grain-based alcohol ran into project implementation delays and subsequent losses. By mid-2011, the account was termed an NPA following non-payment of installments. Demand notices followed under the SARFAESI (Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest) Act, 2002.
According to sources in the Bank of Maharashtra, the borrowers stalled efforts to take possession of the mortgaged property. In April 2016, more than four years after an application was filed before the district magistrate, seeking help in taking possession of the secured assets, the bank was able to take physical possession of the Sakol unit.
Meanwhile, in April 2014, the bank lodged a complaint with the CBI regarding a “change in description” of mortgaged properties at the sub-registrar office, Nilanga. Sources in the CBI said the property offered as collateral at the time of sanctioning of the loan was not the property eventually mortgaged. According to the CBI’s chargesheet, relevant pages in the documents at the the sub-registrar’s office were replaced, substituting the property presented as collateral with a property of lower value.
Despite repeated efforts, the minister remained unavailable for comment. A text message seeking comments also remained unanswered.
However, Nilangekar’s lawyer Chandrashekhar Sabnis claimed that it was the banks that manipulated the original deed submitted with the sub- registrar. He said land was not a part of the mortgage agreement.
“The land valuer who submitted a survey report on the Nilanga land to the banks clearly stated that the said land did not solely belong to Sambhajirao Nilangekar but also his other family members and the said land was not free from encumbrances and therefore cannot be considered for mortgage. So why will the bank go against the advice given by its own surveyor,” Sabnis said while speaking to The Indian Express.
He said the unit’s problems started when the banks failed to release funds that was agreed upon when the loan was approved. “As the amount wasn’t released, we were not able to pay the vendors, and therefore lodged a complaint with the Shirur Anantpal police station in Latur against the banks for committing a breach of contract and not providing funds. It was after our complaint that the banks registered a false complaint against us in February 2014 which was probed by the CBI,” Sabnis said.
In its chargesheet, the CBI has said a plot in Nilanga was originally offered as collateral to procure the loan, but Sabnis claimed that the loan was obtained against plots in Sakol and Panchachincholi, and that the Nilanga land was never part of the mortgage deed.
Sabnis said Nilengekar would now file a discharge application challenging the charges levelled by the CBI. “A guarantor can only redeem the mortgage and cannot be booked for siphoning of the funds. The allegation levelled against Nilangekar are baseless and we are soon going to seek a discharge in the case,” he said.