Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Applicability of Chit Fund Law to Bhagtani Allotment Letter

Mumbai, 1 November, 2017: Some FIRs against Bhagtani cite only IPC sections, whereas others cite MOFA sections also. No FIR currently cites that Bhagtani violated the law banning money circulation schemes, although Bhagtani's allotment letter points to such a scheme.

The definition of Money Circulation Scheme in Prize Chits & Money Circulation Schemes Banning Act (PCMC Act) is: "money circulation scheme" means any scheme, by whatever name called, for the making of quick or easy money, or for the receipt of any money or valuable thing as the consideration for a promise to pay money, on any event or contingency relative or applicable to the enrollment of members into the scheme, whether or not such money or thing is derived from the entrance money of the members of such scheme or periodical subscriptions."

For ease of understanding, we can simplify this definition like this: "money circulation scheme" means any scheme, by whatever name called, for the making of quick or easy money, or for the receipt of any money as the consideration for a promise to pay money, on any event or contingency applicable to the enrollment of members"

Bhagtani's scheme is called by the name, "Provisional Allotment Letter of flat no ___". The "quick and easy money" is the 15% (and in some cases 24%) interest promised in the allotment letter. The "event or contingency" is the contingency that necessary approvals for the proposed building project are not received by Bhagtani.

The Allotment Letter is actually a letter of NON-ALLOTMENT. It repeatedly and emphatically says that although you, the investor, are desirous of booking a particular flat, you are NOT entitled to that flat in any manner. See for yourself.

Let us start at the bottom of this Allotment Letter specimen and read till the top:

1)  Clause 18 says, "This letter is an understanding between you as an investor and us as a developer which is not covered under MOFA." Not covered under MOFA, means you aren't protected by The Maharashtra Ownership Flats (Regulation of the promotion of construction, sale, management and transfer) Act, 1963. Why? Because the lakhs of rupees that you paid as booking amount is not for construction, sale, management and transfer of any flat!

2) Clause 17 says, "You agree not to claim any right, title or interest in the said flat till the entire consideration... is paid in full". Until you pay every last rupee, do you have any claim on the flat? Have you paid the full amount? No! Then what did you pay lakhs of rupees for? Obviously, for 15% interest only.

3) Clause 11 says, "It is agreed that you are an investor and hence in the event we do not obtain the requisite Intimation of Disapproval... you shall terminate this letter of allotment and claim refund from us... with interest... at the rate of 15% p.a..." So what is your entitlement? Only refund with 15% interest, nothing else.

4) Clause 1 says, "You have expressed your desire to acquire from us the said flat..." Please note, Mr Investor, YOU expressed YOUR desire, but your desire is not binding on Bhagtani. In this entire allotment letter, nowhere is it said that the said flat is allotted to you. To the contrary, the letter says repeatedly that the flat is NOT allotted to you.

5)  The subject line says, "Provisional Allotment of Flat no. ___". Provisional, means that it is a makeshift substitute for an allotment letter. It is not actually an allotment letter for the flat, only a substitute.

6) According to this particular Allotment Letter, you, the INVESTOR EXPRESSED HIS DESIRE to buy a particular flat by paying the booking amount and service tax amount -- Rs 20.97 lakh -- but the "developer" (not "seller") BHAGTANI REPEATEDLY AND EMPHATICALLY DENIED HIS REQUEST for the said flat until such time that all the conditions mentioned in the letter are fulfilled. The only thing that Bhagtani confirmed from his side is refund of your money with 15% interest upon cancellation.

DID YOU, THE INVESTOR, ACCEPT THESE CONDITIONS? YES, YOU DID! You signed at the bottom of the allotment letter. You accepted that you have no entitlement to the flat, and you accepted the offer of 15% interest that was made by the developer.

But there is a catch: the Allotment letter said, "in the event we do not obtain the requisite Intimation of Disapproval... you shall terminate this letter of allotment and claim refund from us..." The catch is that Bhagtani has never admitted that he was unable to obtain the IOD, even though everybody knows he is unable. You are compelled to terminate the letter of allotment by signing a cancellation deed format that says, "Due to unavoidable circumstances, I wish to cancel the booking of the above flat". This format puts words in your mouth. You, the investor, are compelled to accept the onus for the cancellation; you are not relating the cancellation to Bhagtani's inability to get the IOD.

In the end, of course, Bhagtani doesn't refund your money with 15% interest. He never does, never mind what the papers say. That is because he never intended to refund your amount in the first place. This is exactly the finale of typical money circulation schemes, where the intention is to collect a large amount of money, divert it into various channels and disappear. What you are suffering from is the typical anticlimax of a get-rich scheme participant.

Crime & Punishment

PCMC Act bans get-rich-quick schemes, and awards a minimum of one year of imprisonment for such schemes. The maximum imprisonment is three years. Section 3 of the Act says: "3. Banning of prize chit and money circulation schemes or enrollment as members or participation therein. No person shall promote or conduct any prize chit or money circulation scheme, or enrol as a member to any such chit or scheme, or participate in it otherwise, or receive or remit any money in pursuance of such chit or scheme." Section 4 of the Act says, "4. Penalty for contravening the provisions of section 3. Whoever contravenes the provisions of section 3 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees, or with both: Provided that in the absence of special and adequate reasons to the contrary to be mentioned in the judgment of the court, the imprisonment shall not be less than one year and the fine shall not be less than one thousand rupees."

Even participating in such a scheme is a punishable offence. But, you, Mr Investor, don't have to worry because you were clearly cheated and tricked into participating in this get-rich scheme disguised as the Allotment Letter of a flat. Don't worry, you are the complainant and the victim, and not the perpetrator of this crime.

The FIR against Bhagtani should therefore cite sections 2, 3 and 4 of the PCMC Act, besides the usual IPC sections connected with cheating, such as section 420. For such an FIR to be registered, you should file a police complaint that clearly points out the above mentioned fraudulent aspects of the allotment letter. If you want to achieve different results, you can't keep doing the same things!

Krishnaraj Rao


Related articles:

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Bhagtani's Disguised Chit Fund Scam -- Is MPID Act Applicable?

28th October, 2017, Mumbai: Is there an alternative view of Bhagtani's scam? Is there a radically different way to frame the issues, to reshape the legal battle in order to get a better grip on the slippery Bhagtani? Consider an alternative narrative, which we may name Bhagtani's Disguised Chit Fund Scam. If this alternative interpretation of facts fits the reality, and if it is supported by the Allotment Letters, Cancellation Deeds, transactions, etc, then it will enable you to file stronger FIRs by including the sections of Maharashtra Protection of Interests of Depositors Act, (MPID Act)

MPID Act is for protecting the public from companies that fraudulently lure investors to deposit their funds with extremely attractive rates of interest, and then willfully neglect to return the funds. Does this sound familiar to you? Does it make you feel that you have been victims of Bhagtani's Disguised Chit Fund Scam? If so, read further and ponder.

(Note: For ease of understanding, I am referring to Dipesh, Mukesh and Lakshman Bhagtani collectively as "Bhagtani".)
White collar criminals like Bhagtani succeed by dazzling and blinding their victims, and confusing the law-enforcement agencies. Complaints of confused victims are unclear and full of self-contradictions. Law-enforcement agencies as well as courts get thrown off the track by confused complaints. So, clarity is the need of the hour. Without clarity, it will not be possible to nail Bhagtani. As the Bible says, "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding."

What is Bhagtani's biggest illusion? That four of his biggest building projects failed, and he is a victim of unfortunate circumstances. 80% of Bhagtani's victims believe this illusion. If you believe it, then Bhagtani wins because you will definitely lose your battle for your money.

Break the illusion. Understand this clearly:
  • Bhagtani's building projects were DESIGNED TO FAIL. This failure is more profitable for Bhagtani than success could ever be.
  • BUILDING PROJECTS ARE A SMOKESCREEN. The smokescreen is useful for:
    (a) not returning your money
    (b) diverting funds into land
    (c) giving false hopes and causing confusion about the money collected
    (d) evading law-enforcement agencies
    (e) buying time by applying for building permissions and approvals
    (g) getting a shield of respectability
    (h) using land and ongoing projects as collateral for loans
    (i) doing fake transactions for money laundering
    (j) making your funds disappear into multiple companies.
Look beyond the smokescreen. Forget that you all booked flats. Think that Riyo, Sapphire, Serenity and Savannah are only the names of different chit-fund schemes announced by Bhagtani for attracting different types of buyers. In the past 4-5 years or more, Bhagtani collected huge amounts varying between Rs 8 lakhs and 80 lakhs from over 2000 persons with false promises. Returns of 15% to 24% were promised. 5% commissions were given to many estate agents and channel partners, who effectively acted like chit-fund agents. 

The allotment letters are basically chit fund slips or certificates. Your entitlement to flats is uncertain, but the entitlement to capital growth is assured. 
  Clause 11 and 12 of most allotment letters say this:

Mr Investor, the land and project site gave you a false sense of security. It gave you a false sense of ownership of this land. The conceptual appreciation in value of the flats as more and more time passed confused you. It diverted your attention while installments were demanded from you, under the pretext of IOD and CC. 

Bhagtani wove a spell around you with empty talk about building permissions, dumping ground clearance, SRA clearance, land title, allotment letters and cancellation deeds, post-dated cheques, credit-notes and payment dates. You kept asking questions about those things all the time, and you were too confused to ask the right questions.

NRIs living abroad were especially blinded by this smokescreen. NRIs are vulnerable to such fraud schemes, because they come here on short vacations and see the huge amount of construction activity. They see how property rates in India are appreciating every year. They want to be part of the India Growth Story. And with very little time on their hands, they take a quickie tour of a few real estate projects and builders' offices. 

Low per-square-foot rates and high interest rates promised by the Bhagtanis would have blinded NRIs and other growth-seeking purchasers to the risks of giving lakhs of rupees to a bunch of unknown people, with virtually no safeguards. Bhagtani's posh office and smooth-talking staff are experts at relieving dozens of people of their hard-earned money every week.

Elements of a Chit Fund Scam:
  1. Money was collected from thousands of people, i.e. "deposits" were collected.  
  2. You are considered as investors. Clause 11 of your allotment letter makes it clear that "it is agreed that you are investors". National Consumer Complaints Redressal Forum has also ruled that by virtue of such clauses in your allotment letter, Bhagtani's flat buyers are investors and not consumers.
  3. Allotment letter also states that MOFA is not applicable. Therefore, you are not flat-buyers, you are investors. 
  4. Capital appreciation was promised by two distinct options. Option 1 was booking a proposed flat really cheap by giving large amounts of money without entering a stamp-duty paid agreement. The allotment letter clearly states that it is transferable. Option 2 was that if the necessary building permissions could not be acquired, then you would get your funds back with 15% (and in some cases 24%) rate of interest by cancelling your booking.
  5. Some allotment letters stressed that if the building plan approvals failed to materialize, then the amount paid by you would be treated as a loan (i.e. to be paid back when it was possible or convenient to Bhagtani) with 15% or 24% interest.
  6. In short, the promise of capital appreciation was so lavish that investing in a Bhagtani project seemed like a sure shot. Whether the real estate project materialized or failed to materialize, you were assured of very high returns on your investment -- much higher than every other option available in the financial market! 
  7. Like all fraud chit-funds, greed was the driving force for cash collections. Some brokers were promised as much as 5% commissions for hard-selling Bhagtani projects, not just 2% as in genuine real estate projects.
  8. The allotment letter laid unnecessary emphasis on the concept of timely installments. The fear of forfeiting your booking amount or paying penal interest ensured regular cash-flow into the chit fund.
  9. As in all fraudulent chit-funds, the collected funds were diverted and misappropriated by the promoters.
Now, with all this in mind, think about how the provisions of MPID Act deal with Bhagtani's offense. Read the Act: Maharashtra Protection of Interests of Depositors Act, (MPID Act).

To get the right answers, you need to ask the right questions. Go ahead and ask.

Krishnaraj Rao

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Weak FIR against Bhagtanis? How to file strong FIR

28th October 2017, Mumbai: Multiple layers of criminality are involved in the Bhagtani scam but police often files weak FIRs that ignore many layers. For instance, FIRs like this one filed by Santacruz Police mention only IPC provisions although offenses under MOFA are also made out. Conviction rates in India are generally low due such "congenital defects" introduced into FIRs at inception.

Weak FIRs may give Bhagtanis and their co-accused escape-routes by giving the police scope to file A, B or C-Summary instead of a chargesheet, Or such FIRs may result in weak chargesheets and weak trials resulting in acquittal.

Complainants, please go the extra mile to ensure that strong FIRs are registered

Dos & Don'ts for effective FIRs 
  • Don't just fill up a proforma that says "Me too"! Proformas to enable Bhagtani victims to join existing FIRs encourage herd mentality. Please avoid. Instead, take the effort to write down your full story, with all supporting documents, and insist on handing it over yourself at EOW in Police Commissionerate compound near Crawford Market. This will yield better results than any proforma.
  • Frame your story in ways that discloses specific criminal offences under various statutes. Read up on various sections of the laws (i.e. criminal offences) that are applicable to your complaint, and write your narrative in ways that fit the sections. Remember, nothing is intrinsically true or false; there are multiple ways to narrate the same story. God and the devil are both in the details; whether God is revealed or the devil, depends on how exactly you choose to tell the story of Bhagtani's fraud and cheating.
  • Mention sections of applicable laws in the conclusion of your story. For filing FIR against Bhagtani, three statutes are important: (a) Indian Penal Code (IPC) regarding cheating, fraud, breach of trust, conspiracy and abetment by Bhagtanis and their employees, estate agents, etc. (b) Maharashtra Ownership Flats Act (MOFA) about wilful neglect of the various duties cast upon builders. (c) Maharashtra Protection of Interests of Depositors Act, (MPID Act) about companies fraudulently luring investors to deposit their funds with extremely attractive rates of interest, and then wilfully neglecting to return the funds. Mention the relevant sections prominently in the last paragraph, which is your conclusion or summary.
  • Don't ask the police to bring your money back. Your objective should be to get Bhagtanis and their henchmen punished for criminal offenses. If your statement says that you want your money returned or your flat delivered, it enables the police to conclude that your complaint discloses a "civil matter" or and "personal dispute" with the builder, and either refuse to file an FIR, or to file a weak FIR. Even though you desperately want your money back, you should not talk about this desire with the police. Instead, you should emphasize your desire to see Bhagtanis punished. This approach is crucial as FIRs are initiation of criminal proceedings, not civil proceedings. Criminal proceedings are for meting out punishment to wrongdoers, whereas civil proceedings are for seeking private reliefs such as refund, compensation, interest, etc. Seeking private reliefs in criminal proceedings muddies the waters and allows wrongdoers to escape.
  • Don't succumb to police pressure to modify your "statement". The police statement is basically your story written down in Marathi by a police officer at the police station, based on your narration of events in an interaction. Relying on this document, police decide which sections of IPC, MOFA etc. they should apply in the FIR. You may experience pulls and pressures from the police officers to mention something or avoid mentioning something in your statement. Please resist politely but firmly. Emphasize that it is YOUR statement. After investigation, the police may write in their report whatever they feel is right, but they cannot compel you to state anything according to their directions.

  • Don't sign the statement on the same day. Don't be in a hurry to sign that statement and hand it in; before signing it, insist on taking a printout home so that you can read it with a cool mind, and also, you can read it to an advisor or advocate, to ensure that you aren't leaving out anything. If you feel that last-minute changes are warranted, please have such changes carried out before you sign it. Don't get cowed down by any policeman's psychological pressures!
Krishnaraj Rao

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Bhagtani Victims' Voices #5: Subiya Shaikh, a school teacher, on Bhagtani Serenity in Powai

This is the story of a schoolteacher's dream of owning a home in Serenity, Powai -- a dream that turned sour. It's the story of every salaried middleclass family that had the misfortune of booking a flat with Bhagtani builders.

In 2014, Bhagtani builders, going under the names of Jaycee Homes and JVPD Properties Pvt Ltd, sold flats in Serenity in a pre-launch offer before any development permissions were granted. This pre-launch featured a Building No. 1 and Building No. 2 which had A, B, C, D, A2 & A3 wings of 39 floors each.

Numerous online portals such as makaan.com carried advertisements, and gave positive "feedback" about the project. The developer put up an advertisement throughout Powai region and a bridge on the Western Express Highway to lure prospective home buyers. The project was also promoted at the MCHI property exhibition held at BKC, Bandra in 2014.

I am a school teacher at Podar International School, CIE, Powai, and my husband is an employee of TCS. We have a son who is seven years old. Currently, we are living in the house that belongs to my in-laws. Naturally, given that my place of work is in Powai, I was eager to own a home at Serenity, Powai, where the rates offered sounded very reasonable. So, my husband and I visited the Bhagtanis' Santacruz office in October 2014, and met Sales Representative Smriti Nayar. Ms Nayar stressed that the land title was clear and the land was in the name of JVPD properties Pvt. Ltd. She claimed that the required municipal approvals (IOD and CC) would be received by December 2015 and possession of the flats would be given by 2017-2018. The Jaycee Homes office asked for 30% of the cost of the flat as a booking advance. They had an aggressive marketing strategy where the pre-launch rates were very good (Rs 9,500 per sqr. feet), and since the rates were going up rapidly, we decided to put our money in their Bhagtani Serenity project.
We booked Flat No. 1003 in A3 wing. All payments were made by cheque. I sold my marriage jewellery and my husband applied for a personal loan. The first cheques of Rs 5 lakhs and Rs 66,236 got cleared on 29/11/2014. The second cheque of Rs 10 lakhs got cleared on 01/01/2015. The third cheque of Rs 6.43 lakhs got cleared on 10/01/2015. In this way, we paid them 30% booking amount.
We received the allotment letter as of 17/01/2015.

We waited for a year during which the project update and progress was slow. Very often, Bhaganis' CRM team would state that the project was undergoing short delays, which are common in real estate projects. Things will soon be on track, they said reassuringly.

Finally in April 2016, we got an email from Jaycee CRM team stating that project Serenity had received the IOD.  This was a joyful moment for all of us. We paid the IOD payment of Rs 7.4 lakhs on 08/08/2016.
In Jan 2017, we received a call from CRM team that the allotment letter needs to be changed for a minor revision so that the approvals for all wings will come at one go only and this is needed to speed up the delayed project. The CRM team used to call us multiple times and very eager to get this done. The CRM Team visited our home 07/02/2017 to get the allotment letter revised. They brought the cancellation deed and took the earlier allotment letter (Wing A3). They got my signature on the revised allotment letter (The only revision in this was the change in Wing A3 to Wing E ). They later couriered us the revised allotment letter.
On March, 2017, we received an email from Jaycee Homes CRM team, that CC has been received for the Project Serenity.  On May 2017, we received an email from  Jaycee Homes CRM team that work has started in full swing. They shared images and videos at the site.

Bhagtani's CRM team sent this image showing
work in progress at the Serenity site in May 2017.

Just one JCB digging around to show activity!!! 

In July, 2017, we visited the Serenity Site to check the progress. However we were surprised to see no activity at the site. We called up the Jaycee Homes office and they claimed the digging was delayed but will be on track soon.

In Oct, 2017, we were shocked to read about the fraud by Bhagtanis/Jaycee Homes for other projects (Riyo in Miraroad, Sapphire in Dahisar) where there were multiple complaints against them.
We visited Jaycee Homes (Santacruz office) on 18th Oct, 2017, met a Customer Relationship Manager named Waqar. When enquired about the news and the project progress, he said that due to technical problem (which he was not at liberty to disclose) and cash flow issues, he could not confirm a date when the Serenity Project work would recommence. We were asked to shift to some other project or take refund. The terms of refund were that the payment dates would commence after 3 years, due to "cash flow issues" of the Bhagtanis. This was a rude shock! This is unfair!

This is the state of affairs at Serenity project
site currently -- shrubs and stagnant water.
No sign of any construction activity.

In order to book this flat at Bhagtani Serenity, we put in money from all our resources -- selling off marriage jewellery and taking a personal loan about 21 lacs @ 13. 5 p/a interest. As things turned out, we are now uncertain about the return of these funds. The prospects of our buying a house in this area are now reduced to zero, as the property rates have risen beyond our reach.

We would like to take legal action against this builder who, with an intention to cheat innocent home buyers, sold false hopes and promises. We are relying on registering an FIR with the Economic Offences Wing of Mumbai Police, and we hope we will get justice.  

We demand that appropriate action be taken against the builder, and that our hard-earned money is returned with fair interest rates immediately.

Written by Subiya Masood Parvez Shaikh
Krishnaraj Rao


Monday, 23 October 2017

Bhagtani Victims Voices #4: Ketan Gajara writes about Bhagtani Serenity, Powai

My name is Ketan Gajara, and I am 37 years old, married and with two daughters, and my family and I are still staying at my brother's house. Naturally, I wanted to purchase my own house and move into it. I first visited the project site of Bhagtani Serenity in Powai in July 2014, having heard about it from broker Vijay Morarka. After this site visit, I visited the office of JVPD Properties Pvt Ltd along with the broker for a discussion. The employees of JVPD Properties told us that the MCGM’s IOD approval was about to arrive, and construction work would start after three months and get completed by 2017-2018.They showed us documents showing that they had title over the land, and that the builders, namely Bhagtanis, had completed many projects. Based on these claims, I was convinced to book a 1BHK  flat in Serenity project.

In order to get a better rate per square foot, I decided to pay 30% of the total flat cost up front. So, I paid a booking amount of Rs 23.54 lakhs out of the total consideration amount of Rs.76.12 lakhs, not including taxes and stamp duty. My payment details are below:

Sr. No.
Bank Name
Cheque No.
Amount (Rs.)
Bank of Baroda
Flat cost
Flat cost
Flat cost
Service Tax

Total Rs.


Rs 23.5 lakhs was the entire savings of my career, and I handed it over to Bhagtani builders in the hope of buying my own flat. When I received my allotment letter on 11 Aug 2014 for flat number B-3704, it was like a dream-come-true. I was happy that finally, I had bought my own house. Little did I know that this was actually the beginning of a nightmare! 

Whenever I called up to enquire about the status, JVPD Properties’ CRM team told me that IOD was delayed. I was in continuous touch with the Smriti Nair, Khushbu, Romit Luthra, Aarti and Dilip. Anxious to know what was going on, I visited their Santacruz office and met Mukesh and Dipesh Bhagtani two times. Their response was always the same: “Work will get start soon, please bear with us for 2-3 months more”.

Finally, on 28 Apr 2016, I received an email from the CRM team stating that IOD had been received. The next day, I received a call from them asking me to pay the next installment of 10%, but I could not trust them now. I asked them to show me the IOD copy first, and they did not revert.

On 24 March 2017, I got another letter claiming that IOD and CC had both been received. Again, they asked me to pay installment of 10%. Again I asked for details about project commencement date and construction schedule. Again, they did not revert. In the absence of proper information, I refused to make further payment. I kept visiting the site frequently, but I saw no progress whatsoever.

Having lost all my faith, I visited their office on 1st July, 2017, along with my broker, met Mukesh Bhagtani and informed him of my decision to cancel my booking. I submitted a letter of cancellation and asked for my money to be returned with 15% interest. Mukesh Bhagtani said that I would have to wait for at least 15 months for my refund. I did not sign the cancellation deed as my need of money was urgent. After lots of heated discussion, Mukesh Bhagtani suggested that I should transfer my booking to a 1BHK flat in their Santacruz project called Bhagtani One. 

I visited the proposed flat on 1st floor of Bhagtani One along with my broker, but the price of the flat -- Rs 2 Cr -- is beyond my budget. Still, my broker suggested the option for seeking bank financing for this flat, and I was desperate enough to consider it. Mukesh Bhagtani asked his employee Mihir to coordinate with the financing agency. The people from the financing agency visited the project and asked for some documents, but Bhagtani's people did not revert with the documents, and so even this proposal fell through.

I find now that Serenity project has been registered with Rera (Registration no. P51800011181) but the project completion date is 2025. I can't wait till 2025! I want my money back so that I can buy a house and stop living at my brother's house. This situation is completely out of control, and I feel completely helpless!

Written by Ketan Gajara