The Tribune investigation: Part-I
Tribune News Service
The list of assets filed by the members of the extended family of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal at various times of nominations in polls, including recently by his daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal, gives a glimpse of their vast business empire spread across transport, hotels, media, power, and non-conventional energy. In this first of a series, The Tribune checks out on their companies and intertwining of shareholdings and directors that hints at a conflict of interest.
Chandigarh, April 25
This marked a whopping increase from Rs 60.31 crore that she had listed during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, just five years ago. In the 2012 Vidhan Sabha polls, Sukhbir Singh listed his assets at Rs 90.86 crore, against Rs 13.38 crore in 2004.
Yet as a Tribune investigation into their overall assets and ownership of companies reveals, the declaration masks a maze of business interests and investments that are intertwined with the extended family of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Incidentally, as against his son and daughter-in-law, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s assets as per his declaration in 2012 were only Rs 6.75 crore, down from Rs 9.20 crore in 2007. Surprisingly, his name does not figure in any of Sukhbir’s vast empire of companies.
Wealthy extended family
The Badal’s extended family too are known to be wealthy. Chief Minister’s son-in-law Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, who is married to his daughter Parneet Kaur and has a host of business interests, declared his assets in 2012 at Rs 51.23 crore, and in 2007 Rs 20.81 crore. Kairon is the grandson of Punjab’s former Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairon.
Sukhbir Badal’s brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia, currently a Punjab minister, too belongs to a well-known business family. In 2012, he had declared his assets at Rs 11.21 crore, and in 2007 Rs 9.16 crore.
Among them, the Badals, Kairons and Majithias own a plethora of companies. Together, they have a finger in the pie across multiple businesses — transport, hospitality, media, civil aviation, power, energy and even agriculture — across the state.
Among Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Bikram Singh Majithia and Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, they hold charge of 27 portfolios in the state. Of them, Sukhbir, wife Harsimrat Kaur, sister Parneet Kaur, brother-in-law Adesh Partap and brother-in-law Bikram Majithia have business dealings with the state. Incidentally, the names of Sukhbir’s cousin Manpreet Singh Badal or his father Gurdas Singh Badal do not figure in any of their businesses.
The initial days
Old-timers recall how Punjab’s ruling family of Parkash Singh Badal till 1988 was no more than a well-to-do farming family dabbling in the transport business on the side. By 2013, Orbit Resorts, the parent company of the vast business empire of Sukhbir and Harsimrat, was worth Rs 726 crore. Of the total value, the share capital is Rs 11.72 crore, reserves and surplus Rs 713.83 crore and share application money Rs 75.22 lakh.
The major expansion of the Badals’ businesses came after March 2007, when the SAD-BJP alliance came to power for the fourth time. In the transport sector, they owned only two companies — Orbit Travels and Dabwali Transport Company. Now in road transport alone, they have business interests in at least four companies — Orbit Aviation, Taj Travels Private Limited, Dabwali Transport and Indo-Canadian Transport Company.
Indo-Canadian Transport Company is their latest acquisition and its current shareholding is not reflected in the documents of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA).
The Badal-associated transport companies not only hold a virtual monopoly in the luxury bus segment but are clearly the dominant player in the private sector. Though none in the family has of late held the state’s transport portfolio, the Punjab Chief Minister has on more than one occasion intervened on behalf of the department.
A perusal of MCA documents shows the Badal family and their close associates are on the board of at least 12 registered companies and shareholdings cutting across multiple businesses.
In some cases, investigations show, the companies of the extended “Badal parivar” may have benefited from not just the Punjab Government but also the very ministries of which portfolios were held by them.
When asked by The Tribune, Sukhbir Singh Badal, however, maintains there is no clash of interest in his business dealings and governance of the state.
Besides transport companies, there is another company, Metro Eco Green Resorts Limited, in which the Badals have a major shareholding — Sukhbir Badal (39.49 per cent) and Harsimrat Badal (54.09 per cent). Its directors include Lakhvir Singh and Mohammad Jameel, who are known Badal loyalists.
This company is in the process of setting up Eco Tourism Resorts, less than 10 km from Mullanpur township, which the SAD-BJP government has pushed with full vigour, despite Opposition parties alleging that this was to add value to their old poultry project that had failed.
What is today Metro Eco Green Resorts Limited was earlier Continental Hatcheries Private Limited in Pallanpur, which was incorporated in 1985. The changed company (Metro Eco Greens) has approvals of the Chief Town Planner.
Incidentally, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is also Punjab’s Housing and Urban Development Minister.
Harsimrat Kaur is a director in Metro Eco Green Resorts, besides Orbit Resorts Private Limited, from where she draws a salary of Rs 3 crore per annum. Incidentally, Parneet Kaur, daughter of the Chief Minister, also has a share in Orbit Resorts.
Kairons’ business interests include the ones in power and agriculture sectors. One of their companies is Shivalik Telecom Limited, in which Parneet Kaur and her mother-in-law Kusum Kumari are directors. Adesh Partap Singh Kairon along with Parneet and Kusum is a shareholder of the company.
In another company, of which Adesh’s brother Uday Kairon is the CEO is Shivalik Agro Chemicals Limited, which has dealings with the Punjab Agriculture Department.
Adesh and Uday are directors in another company, Shivalik Farm Chemicals Limited. In Shivalik Electric Equipment Company Private Limited, Kusum Kumari is a director. Each of these companies is engaged in business dealings with the very state departments — power and agriculture — held by the Chief Minister.
One of the companies in which the extended Badal family has a direct interest is Orbit Aviation Private Limited, into which the Badal’s flagship transport company, Orbit Transport, merged in 2010. The transport companies of the Badals have constantly been in news over the past seven years and faced allegations of blatant high-handedness and misuse of power.
Though the Majithias had at least five companies before 2007, Orbit Aviation Private Limited was incorporated only in June 2007 - three months after the SAD-BJP formed the government. It started with Satyajeet Singh Majithia (Sukhbir’s father-in-law), Gurmehar Singh Majithia (Sukhbir’s brother-in-law), Mohammad Jameel and Mohammad Rafiq as directors.
Since 2011, Sukhbir has displaced brother-in-law Gurmehar Singh Majithia (Harsimrat’s brother) and mother-in-law Sukhmanjus Majithia, who were the original shareholders in Orbit Aviation. The company reportedly owns two fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter.
Sukhbir’s present stake in Orbit Aviation is through a series of transfer and purchase of shares between November, 2011 and March, 2013. MCA documents suggest Sukhbir now holds a majority of shares in Orbit Aviation with Orbit Resorts controlling over 2 crore of its shares.
Stake in media
Sukhbir also owns a range of media companies that dominate prime time viewing in the state. His media firm G-Next Private Limited now owns PTC Group of channels — PTC News, PTC Punjabi, Chak De — besides PTC Motion Pictures, a film company.
The fulcrum of the media-related companies of the Badals are Rabindra Narayan (RN) and Rajee M Shinde as directors. They are directors of Gur-Baz Media Private Limited and G-Next Private Limited with the same address (F-137 Phase VIII B, Mohali). The major stakeholder in the companies that own PTC Group of Channels — through a circuitous route —is Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Punjab’s Minister of Information and Public Relations is Bikram Singh Majithia. The Majithias, too, are said to have taken benefits from the Punjab Government through Saraya Industries Limited. Though this company has been in operation since 1980, it has been engaging with the Punjab Government for setting up co-generation power plants since 2008-09.
Its directors include Satyajeet Singh Majithia and Gurmehar Singh Majithia. Among the shareholders of the company is Bikram Singh Majithia, who incidentally is also holding the portfolio of Non-Conventional Energy.
(Inputs: Sarbjit Dhaliwal & Ruchika M Khanna)
Tomorrow: Power Sector