On January 30, 2006, the Borivali Metropolitan court ordered Choudhary to serve six months in jail and pay Rs 4 lakh compensation for having cheated the Oaks of Rs 3 lakh. Sachin Oak was one of 190 franchisee in Mumbai who in July 2001 were lured by an advertisement issued by the company asking for franchisee and distributors.
The verdict has not only brought relief to the Oaks but has also brought hope to hundreds others who were cheated by the company in 2002. ‘‘We were one of the many who were duped. We will get some satisfaction if he goes to jail, but we would rather have the money back,’’ says Sachin’s father Bhaskar.
Of the many who filed cases against the men at helm of the company— Choudhary, Vijay Tata—who had cheated people through another company called Century Gas, R D Raghunath and R S Shekhar—the Oaks are the first to receive compensation.
IT all began in July 2001. Bombay Bazaar issued advertisements for their proposed chain of supermarkets, inviting people to join as franchisee. The firm promised to pay a minimum return of Rs 44,000 or 5.5 percent of the sales per month—whatever was higher. The franchisee were assured they would not have to pay any security fee but were later made to cough up Rs 1 lakh each. They were also asked to pay an advance of Rs 4 lakh against stocks.
‘‘Choudhary collected the payment by drafts or cheques and later never supplied the stocks,’’ says Shabbir Akolawal, who took up distributorship for the Malad to Borivali region. Akolawala paid Rs 15 lakh to the company—from the money he got after resigning as the GM of a company—for the distributorship of 15 franchises.
Akolawala had taken loan of Rs 15 lakh from a bank which filed a suit against him and Ranjit Choudhary, after the cheques—all post dated—issued by Choudhary bounced. Akolawala’s case was taken up by the EOW and the chargesheet has now been filed at the Esplanade court in Mumbai.
‘‘The ads were attractive and lured many people. They also promised a high percent of commission,’’ says Akolawala. ‘‘I have repaid the bank loan though I suffered losses to the tune of Rs 23 lakh,’’ says Akolawala. The Mumbai Mahanagar Vyapari Parishad that represents these franchisee, continues its fight. ‘‘I have no faith in the judiciary system,’’ says an angry Rajendra Thacker, secretary of the parishad.
On the Oak case, their lawyer Vinay Vyas says: ‘‘Sachin Oak paid Rs 4 lakh but the company didn’t open any franchise. The judgment is for two cases filed by Sachin as two cheques issued to him as compensation bounced.’’
Choudhary, meanwhile, claims the cheques that bounced were from the lot he had signed before he resigned in September 2002. ‘‘Being an ex-director I am responsible and an accused in the case. But the main accused are absconding,’’ says Choudhary.