Construction companies with some of the worst financial track records – IVRCL [the villain of the Kolkata flyover crash] and Gammon India collectively together owe a consortium of nationalised banks a whopping sum of Rs.22,500 crores!
The first named firm is responsible for the collapse of a flyover bridge named after one of India’s worthiest sons – Swami Vivekananda in Kolkata. The tragedy left 27 dead and 80 injured on March 31 2016.
The second is a firm that had been blacklisted in Hyderabad since 2009.
Both are being systematically hidden by sections of India’s paid media by projecting the Kolkata Syndicate – who are chicken-feed when compared to the multi-thousand crore rupee robbers aided by pricey lawyers using loopholes in the legal system.
This blog exposes the sordid, behind-the-scenes perfidy.
Square & Straight
By Lazy Fly
Don’t let’s go to the dogs
I’ve done with Mirth and Mammon
Let’s go home and play backgammon
Sitting in a quiet corner of New Delhi’s Press Club, political fixer Maha Guru was muttering these lines.
“The rhyme seems sad,” I said, buttonholing him.
“The lines are a commentary on the Kolkata flyover bridge crash that left 27 dead and over 80 injured. I was mixing the title and poetic lines from a book by Alexandra Fuller, a British born author who grew up in Africa and now lives in the United States of America. My extempore poem also denotes the hideous hidings of today. And as usual, Indian politicians are passing the buck to obviously shield the real culprits,” LPOR commented and began sipping his exotic cocktail. It had the mildest of rosy tint I had ever seen.
“That is the worst cockeyed theory I have heard,” I reacted.
The man is a spitting image of Makhan Lal Fotedar. MLF was the late Indian female dictator Indira Gandhi’s flunkey. He calls himself MG – which stands for Maha Guru and also Minimum Guarantee. Sometimes, he cites self-created aphorisms and refers to them as the Voice of My Master – a trait that has earned him the sobriquet – HMV – a snide reference to the music retail firm that has seen much better days. MG’s utterances full of sarcastic rancour seem out of place and from a bygone era. Hence, his detractors tease him with names such as the now outdated Long Playing Old Record [LPOR], cassette tape [CT] and video-cassette-disc [VCD].
“Construction firms IVRCL, Gammon India and the Russian firm granted the contract to build the Chennai Metro are drains on India’s building and banking industries,” Cassette Tape observed.
“The Kolkata flyover crash was described by IVRCL as an act of God first and later that lie was exposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself in an oblique way. Blacklisted IVRCL company boss Sudhir Reddy is notorious in many states – and especially in Hyderabad. Reddy passed the buck in 2009 after an accident had left 3 workers dead during the completion of a civic construction site of the firm by terming it “an unfortunate accident” mainly due to the faulty supply of data by the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. Gammon India had also been ‘banned’ after a flyover crash in Delhi in 2009 that had left 6 dead. Members of India’s parliament had demanded a ban on the already blacklisted firm Gammon India and the then Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy had expressed interest in a judicial probe. Gammon India had also been the firm that had caused another flyover crash in Hyderabad that left 15 dead in 2007. Together, the two companies owe a consortium of nationalised banks – a sum of Rs.22,500 crores – which is much more than what is overdue from mala fide fugitive Mallya! Creditors of IVRCL Ltd have decided to convert their Rs.7,500 crore of loans to the Hyderabad-based road developer into a majority equity holding, a Livemint report said in April 2016. On 23 November, Gammon India Ltd told exchanges that the company’s lenders had decided invoke SDR norms and convert a part of its Rs.15,000 crore debt into majority equity, the report had added. According to my information, the promoters had requested banks to give them more funding and time, so that they can monetise their assets and then repay lenders. This is a repeat of what Mallya is saying and Sahara boss Subrata Roy said. However, the lenders felt that the company would not be able to service its large debt. In September 2014, IVRCL chairman and managing director Reddy said in an interview to Press Trust of India [PTI] that the company had put Rs.4,000 crore worth of assets on the block and was expecting to exit its debt troubles within two years. These asset sales have failed to materialise. Lenders were keen to exercise their right to take a majority shareholding in IVRCL as financial institutions already own a large stake in the company. Available BSE data reveals that shareholding of the promoter group stood at 8.28%, while that of banks, other financial institutions and foreign institutional investors stood at 43.40%, as of 30 September. If the SDR norms are invoked for IVRCL’s entire debt, it may become the largest case where lenders are taking control of a company’s operations. Bankers had decided to break Gammon India’s operations into three parts: the transmission and distribution business, engineering procurement and construction business and the residual businesses. SDR norms had been invoked only in the residual businesses whereas the debt was nearly Rs.3,500 crore, as the promoters were looking for strategic investors in the other two segments. Gammon India is also involved in the Chennai Metro Project alongside another defaulter Russian firm – Mosmetrostroy in a Rs. 1947 crore contract – which is yet to be completed despite having overshot the deadline by years. Worse, the Russians left without paying dues to contractors in May 2015!”
HMV sounded dead serious.
“Maybe what you say is true. But, why blame the media for the sins of construction firms?”
“A television channel with a rather loud anchor slammed the sidekick builder firms in Kolkata over the flyover collapse. A Kolkata politician belonging to Mamata’s party was exposed through a sting operation. The charges, surely are true. But, left out conspicuously, is the NPA financial status of IVRCL that networked the complex deals with Mamata who tried to shift the blame on the left. No journalist questioned the company’s honchos during the press conference the other day in Hyderabad over these. IVRCL officials’ arrest is ash in the mouths of the relatives of the victims who lost their lives owing to the company’s insatiable greed in Kolkata and in other cities. Gammon India is being favourably featured on front pages of respected financial dailies – saying it is investing fresh funds into fresher ventures masking the truth about the company’s pecuniary status. None of the senior media personalities wants to seriously expose the flight of the Russians from Chennai because most journalists’ unions are affiliated to the left. The question is who will be held accountable and responsible for the deaths of at least 27 persons and injuries to many more. The Mamata Banerjee government cannot simply pass the buck and shift the blame on to the previous Left Front government. Likewise, the contractor, IVRCL, too cannot invoke the “act of God” clause to escape punishment, The Indian Express said in an editorial. So, should one sing paeans for the paid press which is helping the diversion of responsibility then? And finally ask a very serious question: the BJP, the left and the Congress are on the same page versus Trinamool Congress [TMC] on the Kolkata Syndicate issue. To me it simply conveys one piece of info – everyone has grabbed a chance to hit the TMC on the one hand and allow the escape of bigger defaulters like IVRCL and Gammon India escape scot free! Finally, if TMC manages to scrape through, the villain firms will do a deal with her as well later. The people whose relatives lost their lives can go on crying and none will hear or heed their sobs!”
The VCD had got into the controversial arena. The usual exit route had to be taken. So I asked him about his cocktail.
“This is the Bulldog Smash – a variant of the Salty Dog cocktail. The mix comprises gin or vodka and grapefruit juice, served in a highball glass with a salted rim. I have added a dash of lemon, peach, mint, and sugar cane syrup plus a few thimblefuls of bourbon and Cointreau. For its uniqueness, my glass-rim has a coating of salt to justify the name for the drink’s canine moniker. I am having this one now because I am after the baddies like a bulldog and am being true to the salt of India that is Bharat,” the fixer commented.
“And why the poem?”
“Gammon rhymes with mammon and backgammon. The third is a tricky board game – like what the wheeler-dealers in business and media industry seem to be doing regularly. I would rather call what is being done as black gammon. Thanks to such villains, the nation is going to dogs. Ironically Gammon rhymes with backgammon – the board game of skill. Here, in this context, it is the bored game that kills,” the Minimum Guarantee added.
I mumbled an apology before slinking away.