132-year-old Ripon Club plans partial sell-off to cut rising losses

Although the 132-year-old Ripon Club has endured the vicissitudes of time and fortune, a part of the good old Parsi bastion may suffer partial eclipse. A controversial proposal to surrender or sell off a portion of the institution in Fort will be decided during the club’s EGM on Thursday, even as some members continue to protest.

The club’s trustees called for a meeting with its members to discuss the settlement of a suit that was filed by the land owners—N M Wadia Charities-against the club in 2010. A similar proposal to surrender its tenancy rights to the solicitors’ firm Wadia Ghandy & Company in 2008 was shot down following hue and cry by members. The club management had claimed it was running into losses and moved a proposal to sell the entire fourth floor, including an open terrace spread over 5,500 sq ft to the solicitor’s firm for Rs 6.75 crore stating that the money from the sale would help it run the institution better. The pitch to sell part of the club, founded by stalwarts Sir Phirozesha Mehta, Jamshedji Tata and Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit in 1884, was shelved after most of the members voted against the sale.

23

Eight years on, the sale plans are being revived while another resolution awaits the club that has on its roll leading solicitors, doctors, CAs, businessmen and of course, Parsi Zoroastrians as members. Located on the third and fourth floors of N M Wadia Building on M G Road in Fort, this quaint, old English-styled establishment has been popular for its mutton dhansaak buffet on Wednesday afternoons.

“For many years, the Ripon Club has been embroiled in the said suit filed by the landlords seeking eviction of the Ripon Club… considerable sums of money have been incurred by the club to defend itself and further substantial amounts will be required towards litigation costs till the matter reaches finality. The trustees are of the opinion that the costs of such a long protracted litigation will be unaffordable for the club,” read the explanatory statement from the club.

Advocate Khusroo Zaiwala, who was steered the protest back then has decided to raise his voice again. “No papers from the suit or the defence have been shared with members. How can we pass the resolution for negotiation if we don’t know what the terms of settlement are? It’s like being asked to sign on a blank cheque,” said Zaiwala, who has written to the managing committee, requesting that members be allowed to inspect the documents and postpone the meeting.

Xerxes Dastur, chairman and treasurer of Ripon Club explained, “Members are free to ask any questions at the meeting because we want their sanction before we start negotiating with the landlord. The meeting will decide whether to continue with the litigation or negotiate a settlement with the landlords in a manner that ensures that the integrity and future of the club’s premises are secured.” However, an inclination towards selling a portion of the club, he explained, was “to find a solution to safeguard the rest of the club and not subject ourselves to the court of law”. The fourth floor, which the club proposes to give away, has a card room, a snooker table, siesta chairs and a large terrace.

For Berjes Shroff, who has spent several wistful afternoons at the club since he came to Mumbai in the mid 90’s, every corner of the club has sentimental value. “Those easy chairs, the grandfather’s clock, verandah and vintage air… Wonder what’ll happen to the snooker club? My biggest worry is that we won’t get a fair deal as landlords usually have the upper hand. It’s sad that a Parsi trust wants to take away a part of the Parsi heritage,” he rued.