Jailed tycoons in India demand business centers in prison to pay off debtors

S. N. M. Abdi

Published: Updated:

Sanjay Chandra, head honcho of realty firm Unitech, is rotting in prison since April because he failed to deliver flats after raking in billions of rupees from buyers as advance.

And to compound his misery, India’s Supreme Court persistently refused to grant him parole unless he deposits Rs 7.5 billion to safeguard the interests of homebuyers he is accused of cheating.

This week Chandra’s lawyer told judges that he wants to raise funds for his release as stipulated by the court by selling the company’s assets.

However, in order to negotiate with potential buyers he needs a business center in jail with secretarial staff, telephone connections with facilities for long-distance calls and computers with internet connection!

A precedent

In his submission, Chandra cited a precedent, which once made headlines.

In 2014, Subrata Roy – Chairman of Sahara Group and one of India’s richest men who owned an airlines and a cricket team – was imprisoned for selling bogus bonds to investors.

But rather unexpectedly the apex court provided Roy an air-conditioned meeting room inside the prison, video conference facilities and the services of three secretarial staff so that he could sell his properties in India and abroad to pay off those he had cheated.

Roy’s barristers wrangled 30ft by 18ft air-conditioned conference room in Tihar Jail, internet and mobile phones, and a video conferencing facility that included a 52-inch screen television.

Buyers in America

Roy and two jailed company executives were allowed to spend their nights in the comfort of the conference room so that they could contact buyers in America. And as a bonus, they were given a private lavatory.

Chandra’s high-profile lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who happens to be a Member of Parliament and Congress Party spokesman, pleaded before Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachd that the Unitech boss is in no position to strike a deal with buyers as jail rules forbid meetings with outsiders.

Singhvi prayed fervently for a well-equipped business center inside the jail for his wealthy client. The judge heard Singhvi patiently before breaking into a smile when he dredged up the extraordinary facilities sanctioned by the highest court for Roy three years ago.

It was Singhvi’s turn to smile approvingly when the judges asked the government counsel to find out from Tihar Jail authorities whether setting up a business center at Chandra’s expense is feasible.

The prison’s response – which is likely to be positive – will be placed before their lordships on November 20.