By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Apr 24 (IANS): Nearly 10 years after they were cheated of more than Rs 427 crore by a Mumbai realtor, 2,500 victims run from pillar to post to recover their hard-earned monies.
The builders are Laxman Lachhman Bhagtani, 70, and his sons -- Dipesh and Mukesh, all directors of JVPD Properties Pvt. Ltd. and Jaycee Homes Pvt Ltd.
According to the victims, between 2012-2013, they paid up the part or full amounts of around Rs 427-crore for 1-BHK or 2-BHK flats in projects in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai.
As the Bhagtanis failed to live up to their commitments of starting and completing the construction on time, the total amount with interest and taxes has shot up to nearly Rs 1,000-crores now (2022).
Around 2017, the builders informed the prospective flat buyers that owing to changes in the laws they could not estimate the project completion time and hinted at cancelling it.
The buyers were given options to shift to other projects which were costing higher, and if they wanted a refund of their investments, the builders would provide post-dated cheques or online payments scheduled after 2-3 years.
Some of those who opted to cancel received 2 to 3 per cent of their amounts, but the builders' cheques bounced and no online payments were received, and the investors moved the Mumbai Police, Economic Offences Wing and other departments seeking justice.
In December 2017, Dipesh Bhagtani called a meeting of all investors and sought another 1-2 years time to clear his payments, claiming the Bombay High Court did not allow it, but the company also failed to deposit an amount of Rs 22 crore as directed by the court.
The next month, January 2018, Dipesh Bhagtani was arrested by the EOW and was in the lockup for 19 months, while his father and sibling managed to evade the law.
Meanwhile, in mid-2018, feeling the heat of at least nine cases, Laxman Bhagtani and his other son Mukesh Bhagtani managed to flee from India and the InterPol issued a red corner notice against them in November 2018.
Acting on the notice, the father-son duo was nabbed in Dubai in July 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the EOW froze 125 bank accounts of the Bhagtanis and their companies, slapped attachment orders on at least four of their properties.
Simultaneously, the EOW initiated proceedings to get the father-son duo nabbed in Dubai extradited to India, but the current status is not available.
The duped investors have been running helter-skelter, to the Mumbai Police, EOW, the Magistrate and Sessions Courts and Bombay HC, plus moving other agencies to secure justice and get back their huge amounts.
"Till 2020, the gross amount due from the builders had gone up to over Rs 880-crore and nothing moved during the pandemic. Today, it has shot up to over Rs 1,000-crore. We have no other option but to hope and wait," rued one investor.
In the past 10 years, many of the stunned investors suffered heart attacks or other serious ailments, some succumbed, others were paying through their nose for the bank loans they had picked up for the non-existent (till date) projects and their dream homes.
Some of the unluckier ones were virtually thrown to the roads or out of their rented homes, with reports of a few forced to move into slums as they had no resources to clear their loans, etc.
The crestfallen buyers have formed groups on social media to draw the attention of the authorities and the masses of their quest for justice, but presently, there's no light visible at the end of the dark long tunnel.