It has been more than a decade since customers in Hyderabad decided to buy a flat by construction giant Aliens Group as part of the Space Station 1 project in Gachibowli.
Though they were promised skyscrapers, the customers allege that they have been ‘cheated’, as the project is already five years overdue and a series of complications have sprung up.
A large number of people have been running from pillar to post, filing cases in police stations and consumer courts, and accusing the senior management of the Aliens Group including the managing director Hari Challa of fraud.
“Many people have lost hope of seeing their ‘new house’. We are tired of long-winding court cases and police cases. One month ago, 104 people moved the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, seeking to put an end to this problem,” says Alok Kumar Shukla, an IT professional, who is also the treasurer of the Aliens Space Station 1 Owners’ Welfare Association.
The advertisements for the project first began in 2005, when pre-booking started; promising state-of-the-art living technology like bio-metric doors and complete automated houses.
The project included thirteen 30-storey apartment blocks with 2,482 flats in total.
According to reports, only one tower has been ‘structurally’ completed so far.
Soon after pre-booking their flats, the buyers allege that they started noticing the slow pace at which work was progressing.
When November 11, 2011, which was the date of inauguration for the flats came, the company had only completed a fraction of the project, buyers alleged.
Two years later in 2013, the group claimed a fund crunch and allegedly started asking for more money from the buyers. In 2014, it claimed that the Telangana agitation for a separate state stalled all their work.
The group has also been accused of selling the same flat to various buyers when the initial buyer refused to pitch in more money.
A few months ago, the complainants took to the streets, claiming that many of them were going bankrupt, as they had taken bank loans to pay for the flats.
“The builders’ inordinate delay in handing over the flats on time has severely hit our pockets. Many customers continue to stay in rented flats and pay EMIs. A few of them have stopped paying EMIs considering the consequences on their finances,” Manmohan Singh Chane, secretary of Aliens’ welfare association had said at the time.
In March last year, Aliens Group managing director Hari Challa was arrested on charges of cheating and breach of trust. However, he got out on bail in two months.
Despite this, the company has consistently defended itself against these allegations.
On Wednesday, the Times of India reported that the company had received a 200 crore private equity (PE) fund, with ‘reliable sources’ confirming that it was from Mumbai-based Edelweiss Group.
TOI also managed to get in touch with Hari Challa, who said that 200 buyers would get their homes in the next six months, and the company planned to complete 9 towers in two-and-a-half years.
When asked about the pending cases, Challa said that they had paid Rs 10 crore to close around 40 cases in the last 10 months, before adding, “We are clearing cases as swiftly as we can…depending on the period of delay, we may offer complimentary enhancements like low-emissivity (or low-e) glasses that reduces heat by 45% or flats in another project that we have near the Shamshabad airport.”
However, the buyers are not convinced.
“We suffered for almost a decade and I don’t see any major difference happening in the next few years, and even the near future,” says Alok.
Alok also alleges that the company is still trying to hike the prices, citing ‘enhanced specifications’, while customers demand that the company follow the price originally stated on the agreement.
While Alok is among the few who have secured a refund with a penalty on the builder, granted by the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, he says that not everyone is as lucky.
“For no fault of our own, we have to fight these long legal battles, with the company deliberately buying time and stretching these cases. While some people want a refund, many are still willing to take the flat after this, but with some form of compensation from the company for the delay.”