The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fresh bids to be called for Delhi Centaur

New Delhi, Dec. 12: The core group of secretaries has decided to go ahead with the re-bidding process for Centaur Delhi without introducing any fresh clause in the sale agreement to stop buyers from re-selling the hotel and booking a profit. The decision comes despite the controversy surrounding the Batras’ controversial move, reselling their stake in Centaur Mumbai after acquiring it from the government.

In a sense, this signals that the government has accepted the Shiv Sena charge that safeguard clauses already exist in the agreement that make it illegal to re-sell properties and companies sold without referring the matter to the government.

Following the brouhaha over the sale in Parliament, with charges of foul play and favouritism towards the Batras who had bought the property at Rs 83 crore only to sell it off to the Sahara group at Rs 122 crore a few weeks later, the committee of secretaries were particularly cautious about handling the sale to avoid further embarrassment.

The decision to allow rebidding for Delhi’s 376-room Centaur Hotel without changing any norms stems from the fact that the original memorandum of understanding under which Centaur Mumbai was sold (the pact for selling off the Delhi hotel is virtually a duplicate) contained clauses that made it impossible for the new owners to change the ownership pattern of the hotel without the government’s approval.

The Batras and the disinvestment ministry argued that the company owning Centaur Mumbai remained the same—A L Batra Hospitality—but its promoters had changed and this did not violate any clauses of the pact. However, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam, who accused department of disinvestment officials of manipulating the deal and hinted that the profiteering by the Batras might be a classic case of crony capitalism, argued that the interpretation dished out by the Batras and the ministry was not based on facts as the agreement was clear that it was ownership which should not change hands without the government’s nod.

If the government accepts that its original sale deed was water-tight, it sets a ball rolling which would force it to take action against the Batra group whose owners are known sympathisers of the RSS and possibly even result in the property being taken back, officials feel.

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