Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Majority of Bombay Parsi punchayet trustees want chairman out

Four of seven Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trustees have voted to file a no confidence motion against chairman Yazdi Desai for allegations ranging from protecting a non-Parsi trespasser to promoting his wife as a “shadow chairman”. The BPP is considered the largest private landlord in Mumbai, controlling around 5,500 community flats in Parsi baugs such as Cusrow Baug in Colaba.

Desai, who took over as chairman in 2011, said there is “no provision for a no confidence motion in trust law or in our trust deed”. In the absence of such a provision, trustees voted to file an application against Desai under Section 41(D) of the Maharashtra Public Trusts Act, 1950, which deals with the removal of a trustee if there is evidence of misappropriation of trust property, moral turpitude, or disobeying of lawful orders issued by the charity commissioner.

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“The trustees don’t know the meaning of 41(D),” said Desai, who has no plans to step down. “It’s only for a trustee who misuses trust property for personal gain and, in my case, there’s no such issue. This is just a threat.”

The vote was moved by trustee Noshir Dadrawala, seconded by trustee Viraf Mehta and supported by trustees Armaity Tirandaz and Xerxes Dastur. Trustee Kersi Randeria abstained while trustee Zarir Bhathena was absent when the vote was conducted.

“He was working completely against the interests of the trust and overruling board decisions and resolutions,” said trustee Viraf Mehta. “He was threatening BPP staff and signing MOUs on behalf of the BPP without the board’s knowledge and approval.”

Bhathena shared four main reasons for the no confidence vote: Desai registered a leave and licence agreement to industrialist Ness Wadia’s secretary with just his signature and without informing the other trustees; he wanted to offer a non-Parsi trespasser an ownership flat worth Rs 1.5 crore; he took control of a BPP function and instructed staff to invite only certain trustees; and his wife is privy to all BPP data without being an elected trustee.

Desai rebutted these allegations. He said the decision to allot a flat to Wadia’s secretary was agreed to by all the trustees except Mehta, who abstained; the BPP function was, in fact, a personal function for which he had borne all expenses; community members approach his wife because she is more helpful than Dadrawala; and the non-Parsi trespasser had already been offered a flat in Thane by the previous board of trustees, which is now undergoing redevelopment, and hence Desai offered her the Borivli flat in order to regain possession of the premium flat she currently occupies in Khareghat Colony.

The next step, according to Dadrawala, is that the trustees will take a legal opinion regarding the validity of the vote and figure out how to move ahead with Desai’s ouster. “We will also have to seek legal advice on whether we should remove him as chairman or as a trustee,” added Dadrawala.

This isn’t the first time that BPP trustees have resorted to filing a 41(D) application against a chairman. One was filed against former chairman Dinshaw Mehta in 2013 and Desai said another is pending against his son and trustee Viraf Mehta. Dadrawala, though, said that has yet to be voted on.

“A no confidence motion against a chairman is akin to the impeachment of a president,” said community blogger and activist Jehangir Bisney. “There needs to be solid grounds for it… A spat on social media between the chairman and another trustee cannot be the basis of the motion. Howsoever one may dislike the BPP Chairman, there must be fair play by following all laid down procedures.”

Jehangir Patel, editor of Parsiana, a community magazine, added, “This is more a question of Yazdi Desai’s autocratic style of functioning. He alienates people and does things that the others don’t like but I don’t think going to the charity commissioner resolves anything. It just drags on and on. The answer has to be arrived at outside of the courts of law and the charity commission.”