The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Suris asked to check out of Laxmi Vilas

New Delhi, Feb. 12: Controversies continue to dog the Centre’s selloff process in hotels.

After the unseemly controversy over the Hotel Centaur selloff, Lalit Suri-owned Bharat Hotels Ltd has been served an eviction notice at Laxmi Vilas hotel in Udaipur. Bharat Hotels had bought the hotel for Rs 7.52 crore in February last year.

The notice has been served by the estate officer of the hotel on the ground that the property belonged to the Rajasthan government and not the Centre or the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) which ran the 54-room, four-star hotel till it was sold to the Suris.

Both disinvestment secretary Pradeep Baijal and Bharat Hotels chairman and managing director Lalit Suri say the notice has no leg to stand on. They told The Telegraph that they intend to challenge the decision in court.

Refusing to recognise the sale of ITDC-run Laxmi Vilas hotel, the estate officer of the hotel, functioning as a revenue court yesterday, served the eviction notice on Bharat Hotels Ltd on the ground that the Centre could not sell Laxmi Vilas hotel as it was the property of the state government.

The official gave his ruling on a petition filed by two local activists Rajendra Razdan and Ambalal Nayak who opposed the sale of the hotel which is located on the banks of the lake Fateh Sagar and once served as the residence of former Udaipur rulers.

The two activists had earlier filed a public interest writ petition before the Rajasthan high court which directed them to file a suit before the estate officer to settle the dispute.

Bharat Hotels has been asked to hand over the property to the state government immediately and pay rent for the period of occupation.

Said Baijal, “The property in question was transferred to the Government of India in 1961. Later, it was handed over to the tourism department and ITDC. After 40 years, one cannot raise ownership issues. We will go in appeal and get the issue sorted out. I am not at all worried about the issue since the Rajasthan High Court had dismissed the petition earlier.”

Suri said, “I have not received the notice as yet. But I can tell you I will challenge the order at the highest level within the next few days. The basis for the notice is totally flawed. Why didn’t they object when the government floated the tender inviting bids for the selloff'”

Suri seemed to indicate that people like Ambalal Nayak — who is a worker in the hotel — have ulterior motives for pursuing the case. “People like Nayak have been boasting for the last two months that they will get such an order,” he added.

This is not the first time that the ITDC selloff has been embroiled in controversy. Last year, Centaur Hotel was acquired by Batra Hospitality for Rs 83 crore only to be resold for approximately Rs 30 crore more to the Sahara group.

Suri and Bharat Hotels were also embroiled in controversy when they acquired Hotel Ashok Bangalore. Former ITDC chief Ashok Lohani had raised objections alleging that the money-spinning airport restaurant in Bangalore was originally not a part of the deal. However, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie had overruled the objections.

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