Maple Group CMD booked for misleading housing ad

The case was filed against the company’s chairman and managing director, Sachin Agarwal, his brother, Navin, and others under sections 417, 420 (cheating) and 120(b) (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC

PUNE: The Shivajinagar police on Tuesday filed a case of cheating and criminal conspiracy against city-based developers, Maple Group, for allegedly making misleading claims through an advertisement in several national and regional newspapers which called for applications from prospective buyers for an ultra low-cost housing scheme.

The case was filed against the company’s chairman and managing director, Sachin Agarwal, his brother, Navin, and others under sections 417, 420 (cheating) and 120(b) (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.

The action came after the police received a letter from Nirmal Deshmukh, mission director of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), that the advertisements were misleading in saying that the housing scheme came under the Yojana. In the advertisements, published on April 14, Maple Group had promised a 1 BHK flat for Rs 5 lakh if the buyer was eligible for subsidy under the PMAY. The FIR filed by the police also said that the developers had made false promises of selling 1 BHK homes without mentioning the area of the flats.

Deputy commissioner of police (zone I) Tushar Doshi told TOI, “A case of cheating has been filed and it will be thoroughly investigated. Three executives of the company have been booked and action will be taken against them.”

On Monday, Doshi had instructed the Shivajinagar police station to send a letter to the developers seeking an explanation as well as documents related to the project. “We have also asked the developers to clarify whether they had taken the necessary permission to use the photographs of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and guardian minister Girish Bapat in their advertisements,” he said.

When his comments were sought, Fadnavis replied with a text message, “A notice has already been issued. Bapat told TOI, “I am not aware of any such developer. The government did not give any permission to use our pictures.”

Sachin Agarwal did not respond to calls or text messages. However, in a late evening call, chartered accountant Vinit Deo, who claimed to be Agarwal’s financial adviser, told TOI, “The government has asked for some clarifications and we are in the process of giving that. Till things are settled, we will not take any new bookings. Also, we will refund the deposit verification fees, if people want them back.”

Deo further said, “No permission is needed to qualify for subsidy under the PMAY. One just has to meet certain laid-down criteria.”

However, in his letter to the company dated April 18, Deshmukh had ordered it to put a halt to the scheme and refund the document verification fees. He also wrote to the chief executive officer of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) to investigate the claims made by the company and take appropriate “legal and criminal action on the said developer at once”. Deshmukh could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.

The prospective home buyers, most of them from the lower-income group and working as autorickshaw drivers, cooks and domestic help, had paid Rs 1,150 each towards “document verification”. It could not be verified how many people had applied for the 10,000 flats on offer but some buyers had application numbers ranging in the 40,000 mark. The flats were to be allotted by a draw of lots on May 1.

Even as the applicants gathered at the Maple Group office in Shivajinagar to know the fate of the scheme and their document verification fees, the large flex advertisements that adorned the roads and ushered prospective buyers to the office were taken down late in the afternoon. The seventh floor office of the group was closed at around 3pm. A section of people claiming to be workers of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena vandalised office property at the company’s makeshift deposit collection centre.

“I paid the document verification charges from money I had kept aside for my wife’s MPSC exam fees. I put the money here to get out of the perennial rental rut and now this had to happen,” said a visibly miffed hotel worker Uttam Mangaonkar, who paid the money on the very day the scheme was thrown open.

(With inputs from Radheshyam Jadhav)

Is building a house at this price feasible?

Yes, say experts, because the houses on offer are in the distant suburbs of the city and also because of the economics of scale involved. At Rs 7,55,000 for a 1 BHK (without subsidy), the cost works out to about Rs 2,500 per sq ft for a 300 sq ft house.

“It is doable under certain conditions and if done efficiently. If the land was acquired at a cheaper rate earlier, then it is possible to deliver basic houses at this cost,” said Rohit Gera, managing director, Gera Developments. “It also depends on what amenities the builder is giving.”

Maple Group had claimed in its advertisement that it would offer more than 40 amenities in its housing scheme.

“The project is viable. Apart from aspects such as location in the extreme fringe areas and the small size of the apartments, many such projects are passing on the benefits of PMAY wherein consumers get subsidy in the form of interest discount. Not all customers are eligible for such discounts,” said Alok Jha, manager-research, Jones Lang LaSalle.

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