This is a first-person narrative. Links in this colour lead to relevant documents and web-pages.

On the morning of October 28, hundreds of young boys and girls, many accompanied by parents, started gathering at an office complex at Jawahar Nagar locality in uptown Srinagar. Large printed-banners surrounded the three-storeyed well-furnished office of the ‘Vista Group’. The company was introduced in Kashmir only three days back, on October 25, with a front-page advertisement on the region’s largest circulated newspaper, Greater Kashmir. Next day, the company announced a “mega recruitment drive” with 631 openings – 518 of them in Srinagar – from various service sectors.

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Candidates assemble at the Vista Group’s office in Srinagar on October 28

Throughout the day, many candidates were seen collecting a nine-page-long application form at a guard room-turned-kiosk on front of the office building. A young candidate, who wished not to be named, said that it was for the first time that he saw a private company asking job aspirants to file as many details with the application form. “Such minute details are usually required to be filed only after selection and not with the application,” he said. Another candidate joined in and said, “Even the government does not ask for so many details.”

Searching ‘Vista Group’ on Google shows up a New Zealand-based software company which has nothing to do with the one in Srinagar. Some candidates confused the two as the same, although the company did not say so. Towards the building’s rear side, Syed Raza was waiting for his turn for a second round of interview. When I asked him what he knew about the company, he said, “I searched for Vista Group on the internet. It is a New Zealand-based company, works with cinema-production and has nine businesses.”

Raza, at least, tried to know about the company before applying, but many other candidates knew nothing about it. Some did not bother and some did not have access to internet.

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Homepage of website VistaUniverse.com

On its website, the company says it is a “conglomerate serving more than 360 businesses worldwide.” It claims its presence in Dubai, Malaysia, New Zealand, Chandigarh, Srinagar, Delhi and Jammu. It also says that it has been nine years since it launched its ‘first Vista Group logo’. However, the company mentions no other physical address other than Srinagar on its website. It calls this newly opened office as “Srinagar corporate headquarter.”

The ‘about us’ section of the company’s website is not unique to it. Among 10 sentences, one has been copied from Samsung’s website, another from Infosys and three others from Amazon, with minute changes.

The vision and mission statements on the company’s website are word-by-word copies of that of the Aditya Birla group. The five point ‘values’ are also copies of the same group. A large part of the company’s logo resembles a Pakistan-based company, Lakson Group.

The website has no information about the company’s team. There are five links titled ‘Founder President’, ‘Chairman’, ‘Board Members’, ‘Committee Members’, and ‘Meet Our People’, but none of them link to any webpage. There are links to 12 of the company’s ‘ventures’ that lead to their respective websites, but each one of them is ‘under maintenance’.

The company, on its website, claims it evolved over nine years, but the main website has been registered on October 3, only 22 days before the company announced its operations in Kashmir. Other associated websites, which are under maintenance, are also registered only days before the company’s inauguration in Kashmir.

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Candidates collect application forms at the guard room-turned-kiosk

Around the company’s office, most applicants talked about the ‘demand draft’ that they were supposed to submit along the application. The form states that it is “mandatory” to attach a bank draft of Rs 550 in the name of Vista Group, payable at Srinagar. An applicant from Srinagar’s Ahmed Nagar locality said the company had told him that the application could not be filed without the demand draft. However, the company called him the next day and asked him to take back his draft.

This happened only a day after an entrepreneur, Huzaib Shafi, raised his concern about the company’s legitimacy in a Facebook post. He suspected a ‘scam’ based on his analysis. “I tried calling them, but all the calls dropped, responded with switched off or other reasons. So if any of the associated stake-holders comes through this post and has objections, please leave a comment and clarify my doubts,” Huzaib concluded.

This post suddenly made the company active on Facebook. Huzaib says Burhan Baig, the company’s Director, commented on the post, on behalf of the company, a detailed response but removed it soon. Huzaib soon found that Baig’s account had gone missing from Facebook, apparently deactivated. He had already saved its screenshot.

Sometime later, another person, Farhat Amin, made the same comment. He called himself the company’s media manager. When I accessed his account, it had no profile picture, no public post, no friend and nothing to establish the account holder’s identity or contact. It seemed like a fresh account. I found something very shocking about this person’s identity, which I will narrate later.

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Screenshot of Facebook account ‘Farhat Amin’ as on October 30

Farhat shared the same response on the company’s Facebook page, which has 326 followers (likes). This is the first ever post made on the page. Earlier, links of a few news reports were shared on the page on June 18, but the company had never made a post of its own.

In its response, the company said it was not charging anything for the application but the demand draft was for verification of the documents. It said the company would return the draft if a candidate is not selected for the job. The company claimed that it spends Rs 45,00,000 on marketing campaigns daily “just to reach everyone, so the right & deserving candidate’s get the platform.” It warned the people to “rethink twice before making such comments without having an clear picture.”

I found multiple spelling and major grammar mistakes in its response, signed by Farhat. For example, he wrote ‘there documents’ instead of ‘their documents’, ‘an student’ instead of ‘a student’, ‘simaltancly’ instead of ‘simultaneously’, and many more. The whole text was in upper case. The company concluded by claiming to have filed a complaint with ‘concerned authorities’ regarding these posts/people.

Farhat shared with me seven Company Identification Numbers (CIN) and a Director’s Identification Number (DIN). Huzaib helped me in accessing their details. We found that Andy Baig is the common partner in all the companies. He is known as Burhan Baig at the company’s Srinagar office but I had not seen him by then. We further found that ‘Vista Group’ is registered as a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) in Haryana and not as ‘Vista Group Limited’, which the company website states. The CINs are of companies registered at a single address in Gurgaon this year itself – between March 2 and May 7.

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List of companies registered on Andy Baig’s (Burhan Baig) name

I was planning to leave the office compound when I found a young girl speaking to a group something about the company’s registration. I joined in to inquire. Suraiya Rasheed said she would not apply for the job. She had asked the company to clarify some of her doubts. “They did not respond well to any of my questions and then they suddenly assembled in a single closed room,” she said.

Suraiya recalled a fraud that surfaced in March 2015. A job consultancy firm named Aiida Global, run by a Kashmiri, Muneer Ahmed Khan, reportedly duped 800 job aspirants, including 150 students from Jammu and Kashmir, of crores of rupees. “No one ever thought that it could be a fraud company, it had very good offices in Srinagar, Jammu, Delhi, Pune and other places. I was shocked when I read the news about the fraud.”

Later, I came across a Facebook post by Mehvish Mushtaq, founder of classified web application Dial Kashmir. On October 26, she too expressed doubt over Vista Group. Her post led me to an online consumer complaints forum where some users talked about Noida-based ‘Beigh Group’ and called it a “fake and fraud” company. Interestingly, the members named the company’s owner as Andy Baig / Burhan Baig, the same person who heads Vista Group in Srinagar. I found a similar complaint on another consumer complaints forum too.

I talked to one of the forum participants, who wished anonymity. He said his company had supplied trophies worth Rs 87,000 for one of the Beigh Group’s events in 2014 but the group never paid the bill. “After I supplied the trophies, they did not receive my phone calls, and whenever I went to meet Burhan, the security guards said he was not in the office. Sometime later, he setup a new office at a different address and under a new name, Fox Global. I confronted him there, he agreed to pay my bills but never did so.”

I again searched internet and found that Fox Global is based in Netherlands and does not operate in India.

The person said he has record of every e-mail conversation with Burhan, bills on his name and records of sales tax that he paid against the bill. When I asked him why he did not file a police complaint, he said, “I have a big company, this amount was not very significant for me and getting into a legal case would have been a wastage of time, so I just let it go.” He said he dealt with the Beigh Group because his friend worked there and convinced him for the deal. “But he himself got duped; He was not paid six months salary and then he left the job.”

Another member on the forum wrote, on July 5 this year, that the Beigh Group had shifted its operations to Gurgaon under a new name ‘Vista Group of Companies’ with many ventures but only one face, Burhan Baig.

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Screenshot of Burhan Baig’s account as on October 28, before deactivation

I looked into the screenshot of Burhan Baig’s Facebook account and his profile picture. Surprisingly, I recognised him as the same person who introduced himself as Farhat Amin at his office.

I wanted to be sure, so I went to see him once again in the evening of October 29. There was no worker in the guardroom, no one at the reception desk and no one inside the big chamber where Farhat had met me earlier. There is another similar office chamber opposite to it. A young boy was waiting for Burhan there. He works for a software company that had designed Vista Group’s website. I requested him to show me where Burhan was. He came with me outside the chamber and pointed towards Burhan, who was speaking on phone in a small garden behind the office building. It became certain now. He was the person I knew as Farhat.

Later, I sent his picture to the person who had supplied him trophies at Noida. He too recognised him as Burhan.

I saw a young boy coming out of the conference hall at his office. I asked him where the employees were. He said he and other ‘candidates’ in the conference hall were also waiting for them. I went inside and talked to the group of around eight people. They said they had been hired by the company and were yet to join formally. I was discussing with them the doubts that surround the company when suddenly Burhan came in.

I greeted him warmly and told him to clarify the doubts. He said, “Yaar aap logun se baat karne ka to koi faida hi nahi hai.” (There is no benefit in talking to you [journalists]). Last evening, my journalist friends had reported about the doubts surrounding the company. Newspaper Kashmir Observer also published a similar report later. I said I had not written anything by then. He replied, “Those who have done it, we have already served them a legal notice.”

On October 30, the company published a ‘press release’ on Greater Kashmir and on its website. It stated that the company had taken a ‘legal recourse’ against a local newspaper for reporting that the company had amassed Rs 1 crore on the pretext of application forms. It termed the report as a “baseless allegation.”

Note: This is a developing story. Stay tuned for follow-ups. Moreover, Vista Group’s Director, Burhan Baig, has agreed for an e-mail interview with this website, which shall be conducted soon.