Lucknow. November 17, 2012
Business magnate, liquor baron and real estate player Ponty Chadha had the uncanny ability of winning over friends and influencing people to get his work done by hook, crook or any other possible means. Though his businesses were spread in several states, he had the highest stakes in Uttar Pradesh. His net worth is difficult to peg but a conservative estimate puts it in the region of Rs 50,000 crore.
Ponty was a smart operator, one for whom change of regimes in UP never made any difference. Even arch rivals like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati virtually danced to his tunes. Those in the know of things would share that Ponty was originally known for his proximity to the Yadav chieftain but got equally close to the Dalit icon with the change in government.
For instance, the plan of selling state-owned sugar mills to private parties was mooted during the Mulayam regime (2003-2007) but was realised in practical terms during the Mayawati regime (2007-2012). The government sugar mills were handed over to the Chadha Group at throwaway prices and without any competitive bidding. Anti-corruption activists cried blue murder and petitions were filed against the sale in courts, but Ponty got away with it.
When the Akhilesh Yadav government took over in March this year, everyone hoped for a high-level inquiry into the sugar mills’ sale. But, surprisingly, the new government ignored it completely. The probe was recently given to the Lok Ayukta in an apparent bid to stall action against the wrong-doers.
Similarly, the Mayawati government had handed over the Rs8,000 crore liquor business in the state to Ponty’s Chadha Group. The group enjoyed a free run in the liquor business, dictating the prices and even the brands which could be sold in UP. At the end of the financial year on March 31 this year, it was hoped that the Chadha Group’s monopoly over the liquor business in UP would also come to an end. But, the maverick liquor baron pulled the right strings and the same excise policy renewed for another year without any change in terms and conditions.
That’s not the end of the story. Ponty’s company PBS Foods has been getting the contract for supply of ‘panjeeri’ (health food for children) worth several crore rupees every year for almost a decade now. He used similar clout to acquire a huge land bank in UP, buying off prime swathes of land in Noida, Greater Noida and other lucrative locations at meager prices, thanks to his connections in top echelons. His latest and perhaps the biggest acquisition in recent times was the land at Noida City Centre through an auction for Rs6,500 crore.