Parsi Punchayet faces the axe over audit row

By Ashutosh Shukla/DNA

Barely six months after the charity commissioner (CC) warned the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) of dismissal, a similar show-cause notice has been served on its trustees. The order, dated September 8, was passed when the BPP did not allow a special audit of its accounts and refused to make the books of accounts available to the CC-appointed auditors.

Said to be the second-highest holder of flats and buildings after the Bombay Port Trust (BPT), its investments and liquid cash amounts to Rs120 crore, and properties over Rs5,000 crore. These include 5,500 flats spread across 15 colonies in the city, and also fire temples.

Facing allegations of mismanagement since a decade, the trust held its first adult franchise elections for trustees last year. Incidentally, the elected trustees campaigned on the issue of greater transparency in the BPP. The commissioner’s order however pulls them up for not being exactly that–more transparent.

The notice comes after a complaint on charges of funds being siphoning-off by the trustees and for giving away flats to the rich instead of the poor Parsis. "Despite insufficient housing for the needy Parsis, the BPP kept saying it did not have sufficient funds to develop more houses. This, while it kept giving houses to the rich at a discounted price," alleged Percy Patel, the complainant.

The BPP denies the charges. "This (issue) is politically instigated. Those who lost the elections are now harassing us. How can a charitable institution pay Rs1.2 crore for an audit," said Khojestee Mistree, a trustee of the BPP.

The special audit was ordered after a preliminary one found there were irregularities in filing of accounts. The trustees, however, say this preliminary audit has not been provided to them even after filing an RTI application. The fee levied for the 11-year period of audit (from 1998) is Rs1.24 crore, as per the rules under the Bombay Public Trust (BPT) Act, 1950.

"First, the commissioner should sort out the fee issue. We have filed an application with the commissioner in this regard, but he has not responded," said BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta. The show-cause notice contradicts this claim saying the trust has just been writing letters, instead of filing an appropriate application, causing more delay.

Noshir Dadrawala, considered to be a dissenting trustee, said, "I feel it (the audit fee) will be a big pinch on the trust’s resources. But if our pleas (for fee reduction) fail, we have to comply with the order, or else they can suspend or dismiss us."