Thursday, December 9, 2021

Where is Navneet Kalra? Would citizens ever get answers to these simple questions?

I represent ordinary Indians who have struggled for oxygen concentrators in this calamity and were disgusted that over 500 such devices were “recovered” from several outlets in Delhi which belonged to one Navneet Kalra. 

I personally had knocked at all doors, a Rs 70,000 device was promised to me in a fortnight and I was asked to deposit Rs 35,000 in advance in a CitiBank account in Connaught Place which I can’t be sure belonged to Kalra and co. (But I sure can share the phone number and other details with the investigating authority). 

I had sought this concentrator for a very dear friend of mine who was struggling for life in a Ghaziabad hospital. I didn’t go for this Connaught Place-offer and arranged it from another friend but by then my brother-in-law had worsened so I sent it across to him first. The one who had arranged it for me, sought it back within a day for his own brother-in-law. A fortnight hence, both mine and my friend’s brother-in-laws are dead. 

Then there is another friend of me who was teary on phone: Somebody had promised him an oxygen concentrator device for a few thousands but by the time he went to pick it up, the price of it had been hiked into lakhs. My friend said: “I looked at him, with disgust, and returned empty-handed since I couldn’t afford that rate.”

Hence Kalra interests me. As it does many, many more. After a week of lookout for him, and a manhunt declared on him by Delhi Police, the judiciary hasn’t granted him anticipatory bail as of today but the Lutyens Media have had a field day in highlighting a court’s observation which seemed to favour Kalra. 

Not in these words, but the observation of the court was as below:

“Is doing business illegitimate…in the absence of MRP how could you accuse him of fleecing people…it’s a simple demand and supply situation…(police action) could discourage importers and develop more scarcity, etc etc.”

The defence by Navneet Kalra’s lawyer, Vikas Pahwa runs on such lines below: 

“Since invoices, customs clearance, banking channel are in public domain how could it be called black-marketing…even police officials, judicial officers, politicians, neighbours and friends have been supplied with…it was for emergency use not luxury…this is being done to divert attention from the government’s failure.”

Where does it leave ordinary citizens? And what have we learnt from the other side—from the prosecution side which has largely been buried in Lutyens Media?

The prosecuting lawyer has shared with the honourable judges that a test on the oxygen concentrators being sold through the offices of Navneet Kalra have been found of extremely poor quality…The test on these devices was carried out by Shriram Institute for Industrial Research…Two such devices were good enough for only 32 and other 38 percent each supply of oxygen, as per Times of India. (The prosecution lawyer though claimed in court that some such oxygen concentrators had a working capacity of only 20.8 per cent!)…A lot of ordinary citizens have complained of poor quality of these concentrators…a lot of buyers have complained that their initial advance wasn’t refunded and the oxygen concentrator paid for wasn’t supplied. 

(My friend Veeresh Malik, in these very columns had said so: An oxygen-generating machine in India, for all you try, you could get landed with a modified water-filter pushing bubbles out from one end—Like Sino-Ludhianvi Cuisine, it could be anything). 

So let’s say no charge is proved against Kalra in Courts in due course. That the complaint by buyers could at best be a case for consumer courts and not any criminal sanction as honourable Court has observed. That he can’t be seen as criminal if he is selling his product at whatever price in the absence of any specific MRP set by the government. That instead of being an evil, he actually was a saviour. That a good samaritan is being harassed by a ruthless government. 

But let’s also hope the good offices of Court ask Kalra these simple questions: 

  • In buying these devices did you ignore their quality and were only guided by the cheap price—to be sold at a premium in India of course; 
  • Your lawyer claims that it helped people from all strata of society: How was it a help if ithe quality of product was poor and worse, the device was neither delivered nor advance returned; 
  • When you (as per Kalra’s own lawyer) could be produced in two hours in Court, why not share detail with Delhi Police who has launched a manhunt for him and alerted customs and sea ports lest you escape abroad; Cooperate and come out clean if you are clean. 
  • If you have bought all these devices in one go, naturally with an eye on profit—did it behove a citizen was was hailed by his own Kejriwal government as a “Maker of Delhi.”
  • (As an aside, the Kejriwal government also ought to be asked what qualified Kalra as a “Maker of Delhi”). 
  • Could selling a product to a desperate citizen which turns out to be of no use be termed as culpable homicide?

Let’s also hope that in passing the judgment, the Court also pays attention to its own observation on Delhi Hospitals: “It can’t turn a blind eye” if exorbitant prices are charged. At Rs 42,000 profit on one device, Kalra might be serving police officials, judiciary and politicians, as claimed by his lawyer, he wasn’t doing any favour to common citizens. 

There are reports of individual Chartered Accountants who are pooling amount and offering ambulances, oxygen cylinders, plasma, medicines completely free in the Capital. The entire cost is being borne by them. Donations are coming in from all quarters. 

These are ordinary citizens. Not “Makers of Delhi” in the eye of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. It would be a travesty of justice of Navneet Kalra is just freed and such questions are left unanswered by him or the judiciary and politicians. 

The answers which they owe to common citizens of Delhi NCR, people like you and me. 

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