On December 7, a court in Haryana ordered the issuance of arrest warrants against two employees of the Tata Housing Development Company to ensure their appearance before it. Vivek Kumar, the Judicial Magistrate in the Bahadurgarh Taluka court, ordered summons to be issued through arrest warrants to Tata Housing employees, Abhishek Alankar and Ashok Pal Singh, following their failure to appear in court. Alankar lists himself as “Manager, Administration” at Tata Housing on his LinkedIn profile while Singh is a Deputy General Manager at Tata Value Homes.
The case concerns a police complaint filed by Nityanand Sinha, a former employee of the company, who blew the whistle against alleged fraud in a housing project developed by the company in Bahadurgarh, which is located on the outskirts of New Delhi.
As evident from information already available in the public domain, Sinha had alleged in 2015 that the Tata Housing subsidiary, Tata Value Homes (which is now in the process of merging with its parent company), which was developing the ‘New Haven’ housing complex in Bahadurgarh, inflated the ‘saleable’ floor space area of the flats in the complex above their actual areas, and thereby was “cheating” the home buyers of an amount nearing Rs 60 crore on sales realisation.
As an engineer working on the project, Sinha claimed he had received two sets of final area statements for the apartments in February–March 2015, one corresponding to the true measurements and the other with inflated figures. According to him, the project’s website and promotional material launched to attract buyers, had represented the inflated figures.
Sinha alleged that when he tried to raise the issue internally within the Tata group, he was sought to be removed from his employment, an issue that he is pursuing before the labour courts. In addition, he alleged that following this, he was beaten and manhandled by a group of men at the behest of the company when he attempted to continue at work and his work materials – papers and laptop – sought to be snatched from him by them.
Sinha filed a police complaint regarding the same in June 2015. When the police declined to file a FIR on the basis of his complaint, he approached the Judicial Magistrate’s court. It is in these proceedings that the Bahadurgarh court has ordered the issuance of summons through arrest warrants of two Tata Housing employees who had failed to appear before the court despite court orders.
In three previous articles, this author had detailed the contents of Sinha’s allegations of fraud by Tata Value Homes, and the progress of his various complaints relating to the matter.
In one complaint, which is proceeding before the Haryana government’s Jhajjar district administration, the fraud allegations are being probed. As reported by Newsclick, this probe has been stalled due to non-cooperation by the company.
Another complaint pertaining to Sinha’s contention that he was wrongfully terminated as retaliation against him blowing the whistle, was dismissed by the Delhi Labour Court and is now proceeding in appeal before the Delhi High Court. In September 2019, a senior management official of Tata Housing was forced to appear before Delhi HC in that matter. Following that, the present issuance of arrest warrant represents the next major development in the battle that whistleblower Sinha has waged against his former employer for four and a half years now.
The Alleged Assault
In 2017, this author had reported for the Economic and Political Weekly the details of Sinha’s police complaint claiming that he had been assaulted. Based on a copy of his complaint, the report had detailed the sequence of events narrated by Sinha March 2015 onwards. After discovering alleged irregularities in area statements, Sinha approached Brotin Banerjee, the then managing director of Tata Value Homes via an email on May 27, 2015, detailing his concerns.
In response, Sinha was told that the issue would be enquired into and action taken. Then, he alleged, on June 16, 2015 he was summoned to the company’s Delhi office and served a termination letter. He refused to accept the termination letter and sent emails to senior Tata group officials on that day, finally writing to the then Tata Sons chairman, Cyrus Mistry, stating that he would not accept his termination until the issues raised by him had been resolved. Thus, Sinha informed his superior officials of his position that he was still employed by the company on June 17, 2015, and reported to his worksite in Bahadurgarh.
On that day, while at work on the project site, he alleges that several men entered his room seeking to snatch his laptop and papers. He alleges that the men manhandled him and hit him when he refused to comply with their directions. He alleges that at that point he contacted Atul Narang, one of the listed directors of SAS Realtech and HL Promoters, over the phone, and was informed that Narang had been told that Sinha was no longer an employee at the company and was unauthorised to be at the project site. Sinha then proceeded to file a police complaint.
Instead of registering a FIR, on June 20, 2015, a closure report was filed by police on Sinha’s complaint. Following this, Sinha filed a criminal complaint before the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Bahadurgarh under Section 156 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure on October 9, 2015. This Section mandates how an aggrieved person may approach a magistrate if a first information report (FIR) is not filed by the police on a complaint received by them.
At Bahadurgarh Court
Based on the digital record of the case on the Ecourts Services website, the details of the case in the courtroom can be reconstructed. The case is currently in the stage of preliminary evidence, where on the basis of the case presented by the complainant, the magistrate will decide whether to summon the accused. According to the record, the four hearings on December 11, 2018, March 29, 2019, July 4, 2019, September 7, 2019 have been concerned with examining witnesses.
While some witnesses have appeared before the court and been heard, company officials of Tata Housing have appeared reluctant to appear before the court. The court summons issued to the company first named one Neeraj Rana, the Administration Manager. Following his failure to appear, the name was changed to one Ashok Pal Singh, named as ‘document in charge.’ Singh appeared in court on September 7, after facing a summons through a bailable warrant. He was summoned to appear once again on December 7, along with Alankar, the other Tata employee, but neither did.
The latest order betrays some irritation on the court’s part that the Tata Housing employees have failed to appear before it. This is the first time in the court’s proceedings that summons through arrest warrants have been issued. In earlier instances of witnesses failing to present themselves, the court had been satisfied to issue summons through bailable warrants.
The order notes that “instead of producing the documents concerned regarding which the witnesses were summoned” the witnesses Abhishek Alankar and Ashok Pal Singh filed applications seeking exemption from personal appearance. The court declines the application citing the “want of any cogent reason” and states that the “witnesses...appear to have intentionally avoided their presence.”
Which Way Forward?
Meanwhile, as his complaint alleging unfair termination proceeds under appeal before the Delhi High Court, and his complaint on the alleged fraud by Tata Value Homes proceeds before the Jhajjar district administration, Sinha’s long battle against his former employer stretches on. In addition, two cases of defamation lodged against him by the Tata group company are also proceeding in Mumbai and Gurgaon.
If Sinha’s complaint against the accused Tata group officials succeeds, it would be his first victory against his former employer. It should be noted that the issuance of arrest warrants is only to ensure appearance of witnesses before the court, and does not necessarily indicate that the court is swinging in either direction on the merits of the case.