The loss-making company, which had even launched a regional airline, is now close to 'winding down'
In his statement after moving the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) against elder brother Malvinder Singh on September 4, Shivinder Singh talked about the “unimaginable losses accumulated in running a private charter airline business.”
A Moneycontrol investigation showed Ligare Voyages, which provided chartered flights, is close to ‘winding down,’ as a former employee puts it, despite the Singh brothers ploughing in nearly Rs 900 crore over a decade.
As per filings, the company reported a loss of Rs 67 crore on revenues of Rs 6 crore, as on March 31, 2015, the last period for which financial information is available. It has been a loss-making operation since inception in 2006.
Also, developments of the last few years including the resignation of CEO & MD Sanjay Godhwani – brother of Sunil Godhwani, who was also accused by Shivinder - mirror the turmoil in other Group companies such as Religare and Fortis.
Godhwani was replaced by Singh family confidants.
“It has been going downhill, especially since 2015. Later, Godhwani was replaced,” says a former senior executive who put in his papers earlier this year. Godhwani, who was leading the airline almost from its inception, put in his papers in November 2015.
While in his resignation letter Godhwani said, “I am unable to devote any meaningful time to the affairs of the company,” those close to the company say differences had cropped up between him and the Singh brothers over the direction of the airline.
The company is now led by Jitender Singh Chandel, who has been with the Singh family since he joined Ranbaxy in 2005 after taking premature retirement from the Indian Army. When contacted, Chandel declined to comment on the story and said he was travelling overseas.
“The fleet is nearly grounded, and almost all the aircraft, saving two, have been sold,” added the executive quoted above.
The former Ligare official said a “customs case” had initially led to the grounding of the aircraft. Though some of the planes were later released, the damage had been done.
Interestingly, Godhwani later headed Spectrum Voyages, another Delhi-based company whose services were similar to that of Ligare. Earlier this year, Spectrum took Fortis Healthcare and Religare Health Insurance to the NCLT over non-payment of fees.
“Spectrum provides travel solutions. It had booked tickets and given other travel services to Fortis and Religare, but since 2014, the payment has been pending,” said advocate Priyanka Kakkar. In total, a payment of about Rs 1.3 crore is due, added Kakkar.
Like in the case of Ligare, phone numbers listed on Spectrum’s website were out of order. Moneycontrol talked to a Spectrum employee who said: “there has been no business for over a year."
Ligare was incorporated in 2006 and was initially named Regius Aviation. Like in other companies of the Singh brothers, the aviation company was also marked by the presence of Gurinder Singh Dhillon, the head of Radha Saomi Satsang Beas sect.
Shivinder calls Dhillon his ‘master’ and the sect his ‘spiritual home.’
Documents filed during the initial public offering of Religare Enterprises show Dhillon’s sons Gurpreet and Gurkirat Singh Dhillon as prominent shareholders of Ligare. Each held 12.18 percent stake in the company as on January 2010. Sanjay Godhwani held 2.53 percent.
Malvinder and Shivinder Singh together held over 70 percent.
The company went through two rounds of a name change. It became Religare Voyages in 2008, and finally to Ligare in 2012.
The change in names though didn’t alter its fortunes.
The company had 11 aircraft in its fleet, which included Falcon 7X, which is popular among business fliers, and King Air B200, a Turboprop aircraft which was used as an air ambulance.
Apart from private charters and air ambulance, Ligare also had an engineering arm that provided maintenance and repair services; and a training arm.
The company’s biggest step, which also reflected the ambition Singh brothers had in the aviation industry, was the launch of a regional air carrier, Air Mantra.
Ironically, plans for Air Mantra were announced in 2012, just when shares of Kingfisher Airlines, the now-shut company of Vijay Mallya, were getting battered on the stock exchanges. Air Mantra commenced operations in July 2012 with inaugural flights from Chandigarh to Amritsar. But within eight months the airline shut down, citing poor bookings.Twelve years since its inception, the aviation ambitions of the Singh brothers remain unfulfilled. An employee of Ligare told Moneycontrol that while the training arm continues to function, charter bookings have reduced. “The company is clearly going down,” says the former executive.