Updated: August 23, 2015 12:00:56 am
A internet search for ‘Sachin Dutta Builder’ leads to a ‘Balaji Group’ page on a leading property website. “Mr Sachin Dutta” has been described as the founder of the group that has close to eight luxury real estate projects in the National Capital Region. Only, now there is no sign of this “pioneer in Real Estate Development Projects in India”.
Nearly a month after he got a new name and a title, that has since been snatched from him, Dutta remains a man difficult to find.
On July 28, at a massive ceremony at Bagambari Math in Allahabad, 34-year-old Dutta was crowned ‘mahamandaleshwar (a high priest)’, one of 80 in the country, by the All India Akhara Parishad. Considered the apex body of sants, the Parishad also rechristened him Sachidanand Giri Maharaj.
But less than a week after the coronation, which had Uttar Pradesh PWD Minister Shivpal Singh Yadav and Tourism Minister Om Prakash Singh in attendance, Dutta, now popularly called the ‘builder baba’, was stripped of his title. The provocation was the controversy over his involvement in “the liquor business” before he turned ‘saint’.
The ban on Dutta was the first time the Akhara resorted to such strict action.
The “liquor business” the Akhara baulked at was a disco-cum-bar that Dutta owned in Centrestage Mall in Noida. The bar, called ‘Quantum the Leap’, has now been replaced by Grand Royal Night Club. “With good drinks and trendy music, the bar was the best night spot in NCR,” says Nitish Durrani, 22, who owns a kiosk at the mall, selling mugs, key chains and other trinkets. Claiming he was a frequent visitor at the bar, he adds, “I didn’t know the owner was a sanyasi.”
But the club was just one of Sachidanand’s business interests. His primary focus was real estate, a business he ran with his father Rajendra Dutta. Though in his new turn as a baba, he claims to have “given up” all commercial interests, his name figures on all real estate websites and the staff at his properties recognise ‘Sachin Dutta sahab’ as their boss. Though boss, they say, was never too visible. “While Sachin Dutta is the founder, my interaction was mostly with Rajendra Dutta. They operate from their Noida residence,” says Praveen Gupta, a project head with the Balaji Group.
Foster Heights, a 14-storey apartment in Ghaziabad, is among the Balaji Group’s properties. A flat here costs anywhere between Rs 44 and 75 lakh, but without the “promised maintenance and facilities”, the residents are complaining. “We have been paying about Rs 10 lakh from our pockets for the generator and the lift. The maintenance amount we pay was supposed to cover all this,” says a resident who did not wish to be named. “But who do we complain to?”
At A-126, Sector 63, Noida, the only official address available for the firm, there is no sign of the Balaji Group. In its place is a commercial building with spaces rented out to different establishments. The web page for the Group mentions Mohit Gupta as vice-president, Sales & Marketing, but he claims he is no longer with the company.
“I have met Sachin Dutta a few times, but I am not aware of his bar business. But the news of him turning into a saint did take everyone by surprise,” says Gupta.
In his interview to ABP News channel, the only time he has been seen in public since the controversy broke out, Dutta had attributed his sainthood decision to his “huge battle with alcoholism” and “the activities” he witnessed at his bar. The interview, recorded at Dutta’s bungalow in Noida, apparently strengthened the Akhara’s resolve to sack him.
“The fact that he returned to his home after becoming mahamandaleshwar was a violation of rules,” says Mahant Narendra Giri, head of the Akhara Parishad. But didn’t the Akhara do a background check on Dutta? “See, we are priests and saints, we don’t do such checks. We heard about his liquor business and sacked him. He is not coming back,” says Narendra Giri.
The gates of his bungalow in Sector-41, Noida, are locked. This is where Dutta, whose family hails from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, stayed with his parents, wife and two sons. He claims to have “separated” from his family after taking sanyas.
His wife Srucchi Dutta now lives in Muzaffarnagar with the children. “I have nothing to do with him any more. I have no idea why he took sanyas,” she says angrily when asked if piling debts, as was being reported, was the reason for Dutta to take up sainthood.
Employees at the Balaji Group’s property sites claim to have last met Dutta’s father Rajendra Dutta a month ago, but there has been no comment from him since the controversy broke out.
The neighbours are cautious while responding to questions about ‘builder baba’. “Until a year ago, his wife and children were here, but after that, we have only seen Sachin Dutta and his father. They rarely interacted with us,” says one of the neighbours.
Ajiz, who irons clothes at a shack outside Dutta’s home, is more forthcoming. “Aaj kal toh nahin dikhte, par jab bhi aate the badi badi gadiyon se utarte the (They are not to be seen these days but whenever they have come here, they have always stepped out of big cars). They are probably now hiding from the media,” he says.
Despite the missing owners, work is on in full swing at the Group’s real estate projects. At Balaji Kingston, a real-estate project in Sector 4, Ghaziabad, workers are busy. “Possession of these flats will begin by 2017,” says Lakshman Singh, who says he has been “in-charge of the project” for the last two years. “Sometime last month, both the father and son had come to the site, but now we deal with the company manager,” he says. He too is evasive about the company’s address. “All the talking happens on the phone. We don’t have to go to the office,” he says.
This is not the first time Dutta has been in the news. In August last year, he was shot at by motorbike-borne unidentified assailants near Noida Extension. He sustained minor injuries and an FIR was registered at Bisrakh police station in Greater Noida.
There are also reports of charges of land grab and illegal liquor trade against Dutta in Punjab and Haryana — but there are few details about the cases and the Akhara too knows little about the man they named mahamandaleshwar. Some neighbours talk of him having “a permanent room booked in a top hotel in Noida”.
But till the ‘builder baba’ comes out and confirms this and many other such stories about himself, his business empire, which now remains unattended, will be left to do all the talking.
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