Unaccounted cash at Parsi trust office: The theories don’t add up

MULTIPLICITY ast week, trustees of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), the largest representative organisation of ParsiZoroastrians, found nearly Rs22 lakh and some gold jewellery in a locked cupboard that was used by their former CEO. Mehli Colah, the official, died in December 2013 after prolonged illness.

Article by Manoj Nair | Hindustan Times

After the discovery, the seven trustees filed an application with the police, asking for an investigation into the source of the cash and gold. When the application was made, the chairman of the trust told this newspaper the cash could have been from the sale of shares kept in the custody of the BPP (Many community members, who have no heirs, appoint the trust as the custodians of their property).

But this is just one of the theories being bandied about. Another news report said the money could be sourced to kickbacks received in the sale of tenancy rights to property owned by the trust in Fort. A third version says the money and gold could belong to a dead tenant of the trust, which is one of the biggest landlords in the city.

According to community groups, it is impossible that valuables from a tenant’s flat could have been left unaccounted in a trust official’s cupboard. “If tenants die without heirs, an inventory of their flats is carried out in the presence of eye witnesses,” says Anahita Desai of the World  Association of Parsi and Iranian Zoroastrians. “We wanted the police to investigate because many  of the theories did not add up.”

The Parsi Times first reported the incident in its last week’s edition. “As far as Mehli Colah is concerned, it is a sensitive issue. Colah was a respected man who had a sudden demise; it was a  bit of shock,” says Freyan Bathena, its editor.

Another weekly ‘Parsiana’ did not report the incident, but the magazine put out a Facebook post explaining its scepticism. The post said: According to one report, after ascertaining from the trustees that the goods belonged to the BPP, the police inspector inquired what was there for him to inquire into!

The BPP owns or manages more than 5,000 flats in the city that are rented out to members of  the community. According to some estimates, at least one in four renters stay alone. While many  had never married or had lost their spouses, some of them have descendants or relatives abroad. In absence of a legal heir, the flat is reclaimed by the trust.

“In most cases of people dying without declared heirs, there is somebody — a cousin, or a family — abroad. But it does happen occasionally that a tenant dies without any heir,” says  Jehangir Patel, editor of Parsiana.

“When you hear the gold could have been taken from a tenant’s flat, it is disturbing,” says Bathena. “It is shaking people up. I have come across complaints where the children of tenants have said that their dead parents’ flats have been padlocked and the valuables missing.”

The trust says it has to lock up flats after the death of tenants to prevent illegal claimants. Bathena describes this as a ‘Catch 22’ situation. “The trust is trying to protect its property, but in the process it is facing allegations of brutality. When it comes to cases like this, the trust has to come up with a middle ground.”

BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta said that the police investigatons are still incompete. Yazdi Desai, another trustee, says that they wanted an inquiry into the cash. There have been difference between the trustees over property sales and Desai was one of the four trustees who had complained to the Charity Commissioner about irregularities in last year’s deal.

“None of the trustees want anything to do with the cash,” said Desai, explaining why they  insisted on a police inquiry. “The board (of BPP) would have known if shares were sold.”