Kingdom of Dreams (KoD) is an expansive tourist destination with an extravagant entertainment area in Sector 29, which is a snobby, stiff upper lip locality of Gurugram in Haryana. It is run by a private company that goes by the name of Great India Nautanki Co Ltd. This company was given about six acres of prime land on a 15-year lease in 2008 at a rent of Rs.36 lakh per year by the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA). Under the agreement with HUDA, the company has committed to giving a certain number of entry tickets at concessional rates to residents of the neighbourhood.
Since 2012, the noted activist, Harendra Dhingra has run a Right to Information (RTI) campaign for details on the deal between HUDA and this company. His RTI applications have revealed that KoD has not paid a single rupee in rent since it was allotted the land - the amount payable is now Rs42 crore. Worse, it has brazenly taken loan of Rs150 odd crore from IDBI and other banks, by mortgaging the piece of HUDA's land, which was taken on rent. And, it had not given and concession to visitors from the neighbourhood.
Dhingra’s complaint led the state government to direct the HUDA Administrator as well as the Estate Officer to terminate KoD's lease in July 2016. Strangely, though, Dhingra’s RTI documents revealed that the officers of HUDA, instead of abiding by the state government’s order, pleaded inability to execute it due the absence of a clerk. Dhingra then sent a petition to Haryana Chief Minister in December 2016. Dhingra saw this as a conspiracy to bail out KoD run by the Great Nautanki Co and sent a complaint to Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar.
He made the following points in his complaint:
- KoD has caused a loss of Rs42 crore to HUDA and around Rs150-Rs160 crore to IDBI Bank Ltd and other banks bringing loss of Rs200 crore to the public exchequer
- Granting of 5.6 acres of land on lease to KoD for 15 years at Rs36 lakh per month, circumventing rules and regulations, resulted in KoD raising a loan of Rs150 crore against `leased land of HUDA’ by getting a clandestine approval from CA HUDA without the HUDA Gurgaon office documenting anything on paper. Also, KoD has yet to pay rent amounting to Rs42 crore as of 1 September 2016.
- Taking cognisance of the above fraud, the government vide letter 19 July 2016, directed Administrator HUDA as well as Estate Officer HUDA to terminate the lease.
- In reply, HUDA confirmed by letter dated 20 July 2016 that in the absence of the clerk this order could not be executed.
- There was calculated move on the part of KoD to defraud public exchequer to the tune of Rs200 crore by way of not paying rent, taking loan by mortgaging HUDA land and by way of missing judicial and administrative process to delay the termination of lease and use the time or mock and collusive legal fights so that no recover is made.
A three member Committee has recently recommended cancellation of the lease of KoD; recover pending dues payable to HUDA by KoD amounting to Rs42.5 crore; ordered recovery of value added tax (VAT) and Entertainment tax of Rs18.02 crore from KoD, which they collected from Public but not paid to the Government during last 8 years. The Committee also asked for auction of the 5.6 acre site and said that the present management of KoD would be able to participate if it pays outstanding dues of Rs62.02 crore, subject to clearance from Haryana Vigilance Bureau which is investigating KoD on its and CAG Complaint, and highest bidder would get lease of 33 years extendable by another 33 years.
An elated Dhingra says, “Finally persistence pays off and civil society wins as the government, at long last, cracked the whip on Kingdom of Dreams (KoD). On our complaints filed since 2012 for various irregularities, the Haryana government ordered Vigilance Probe in KoD land lease and also set up three member of three senior IAS officers of Additional Chief Secretary rank to suggest ways to ascertain as to how this project went wrong and ways to find out if this project can be revived.”
Dhingra brought KoD under RTI
Before campaigning, Dhingra had to fight the first battle of making KoD as public authority. Dhingra, a resident of Gurgaon, filed an RTI application on 20 March 2013, to the Office of Kingdom of Dreams (Great Indian Nautanki Co). He pointed out that the KoD has received substantial financing from the HUDA and Government in the form of the land and hence it is a Public Authority as per Section 2(h)(d)(ii) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Dhingra sought the relevant information like the list of residents of Gurgaon who have been given the stipulated 25% discount by the KoD in programmes or events and shows performed there since its inception, its various licences, taxes, dues paid to HUDA and various permissions obtained by KoD. He also sought the copy of consent from the government to operate.
However, officers of KoD denied information maintaining that KoD was not a Public Authority. Dhingra then filed a complaint on 20 June 2013 with the Haryana State Information Commission. The appeal being, that the Kingdom of Dreams be declared “Public Authority” under Section 2(h)(d)(ii) of the RTI Act, 2005 and that the SPIO be penalised for not providing information.
Initially it denied information to Dhingra, however in a second appeal to Haryana State Information Commission, he had argued that, “KoD has been provided six acre prime land on monthly rent of Rs36 lakh for 15 years. As per the lease agreement of 15 February 2008, it was mandatory for KoD to give 25% discount on all tickets of all shows to the residents of HUDA sectors of Gurgaon for which at least 10% seats were to be kept reserved. In case the reserved tickets were not purchased by the residents of HUDA sectors, seven days prior to the date of show, KoD was permitted to sell the tickets to other customers or tourists. The residents of HUDA sectors in Gurgaon complained of non-compliance of these terms of lease.”
The two commissioner Bench of Haryana State Information Commission on 20 December 2014 declared KoD as ‘Public Authority’ and directed the KoD management to implement the RTI Act and appoint PIO and the First Appellate Authority within a month. The SIC also directed the KoD to furnish the report pertaining to the appointments of the PIO and the First Appellate Authority.
The SIC observed in its order that, although, the Great India Nautanki Co is a private limited company, it is registered under the Indian Companies Act, 1956. The general assumption is that every private company does not fall under the ambit of the RTI Act, 2005 and therefore is not compelled to provide information. However, in the present case, the company had entered into an agreement with the HUDA to start the Kingdom of Dreams project and the HUDA has allotted 5.66 acre land to the KoD on payment of a monthly rent of Rs36 lakh. The Haryana SIC order established that, a private company like KoD that has received substantial funding in any form from the government has to comply with all provisions of the RTI Act.
Kudos to activists like Dhingra, who keep the RTI Act going in full steam and helping nullify cynicism about the power of RTI.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.