CDR Group

Mr. Trilok Choudhary, Chairman, CDR Group

“We are the original farmland owners of Delhi”

By Anjay Sinha
Legend has it that when gold was first sighted in California in 1848, businessman Samuel Brannan did something out of the ordinary. He foresaw the need for thousands of pickles and axes in the oncoming days—later coined as Gold Rush—and bought up hundreds of them. Those who didn’t see what Brannan could, and didn’t have his entrepreneurial mind, easily parted with their tools when offered small sums of money, little realizing what they were doing.

A few days later, when everyone was looking for a pickle and an axe, Brannan sold them to these aspiring gold diggers at enormous profits. Subsequently he was able to buy up huge tracts of land that were later to become part of the city San Francisco. Foresight and common sense made Brannan the Gold Rush’s first millionaire.

Somewhat similar goes the story of Choudhary Dayaram, a farmland owner whose family sold milk in Delhi and surrounding areas. Mr Dayaram may not have been armed with degrees, but what he certainly possessed was loads of common sense, a determination to do well, and plenty of foresight and vision. So, when in the early 1970s, Delhi started expanding and land started becoming dear to its citizens, Mr Dayaram started acquiring land, while most other land owners were busy selling their property in order to make a quick buck. Thus was born one of the greatest acquisition stories of modern India.

Mr Trilok Choudhary, 48, his son, recalls nostalgically his father’s rural wisdom, and his habit of keeping his ear close to the ground. By the late 1970s, large land banks had been created by Mr Choudhary’s family. In 1982, when Delhi hosted the Asian Games, the city witnessed a raft of construction activity and infrastructure boost. Much land was needed to be acquired, and prices boomed as several projects were expedited by the Government of the day in order to meet Games’ deadlines. Some rural areas became urbanized and roads had to be constructed.

But Mr Choudhary’s father still kept building on his land banks. A keen student of development and urban processes, Mr Dayaram visited several foreign countries in order to further his own knowledge and gain firsthand account of how others in similar positions operated and invested. During one such trip he learnt of the concept of farmhouse, a completely unknown and unfamiliar term in India at the time.

On his return, he sold both land and the concept to India’s largest real estate group, DLF, for building farmhouses in south Delhi. Thus began the farmhouse culture in Delhi, which has run mostly through the mid 1980s, booming in the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century. This spree of selling activity laid the foundation of the CDR Group and its future corporate structure. Today the group has expanded into education, Media and even civil aviation. The company’s annual turnover is in excess of Rs 10,000 crore. In recent times it has sold over 1,000 acres of land to not just large real estate developers but hotel groups like Oberoi.

Mr Choudhary who is also a leader in the Congress party responded to questions from India Empire.

You are the son of legendary Choudhary Dayaram and also the chairman of the CDR Group. What are your plans for the group, as well as for yourself?
I will walk on my father's footsteps. Any ambitious person can become successful but maintaining success is equally important, Apart from business, my group is active in charity. We belong to farming family and still till agricultural land by driving tractors. It personally gives immense satisfaction to me.

How do you manage the dual role of businessman and politician? Is being a successful businessman a hindrance to your political growth?
I have not joined politics for monetary gains. We have enough money of our own for livelihood for several generations. Some people join politics for their own personal gains. Now my sole aim is to serve people as much I can. We run schools and primary health centers, especially in rural areas in Delhi. Still one-fourth of capital's population resides in rural areas and their source of income is farming.

You belong to Delhi’s rural areas. So please indicate what is the actual condition of these areas?
There are 140 villages in Delhi. Around 40 percent of them depend on farming for livelihood. There is lack of social and educational awareness. Still these people are hesitant in sending their daughter to school and colleges. We started education and social awareness campaign in these villages. There is an urgent need of hospitals, schools and colleges in village areas. Due to rapid urbanization, villages have lost their basic identity. It is our duty to save these villages, especially their prestige and tradition. That is why we have launched "Gaon Bacho Andolan". We have given memorandum to Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in regard to problems faced by these villages.
The farmers have had their fair share of trouble with urbanization. They have lost their land in acquisition but not adequate compensation. We demand more compensation so that they get the value of their land close to market rates. After all, the capital city was built over villages. We should now make all out efforts to protect these remaining villages.

What is your view on corruption and FDI?
Farmers will benefited by FDI. In present circumstances, the middlemen corner farmers' hard-earned money. If FDI is allowed, farmers will get direct benefits. I agree there is rampant corruption in India. However there are many people who are honest. Due to these honest- men the country had growth. One dead fish can pollute the whole pond. It doesn't mean all are corrupt. We should be hopeful for a bright future of our country.

September 2012

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