A House in a Baug

by Manoj R Nair – Mumbai Mirror – 02 Sept, 2008.

Bombay Parsi Punchayet will allot more than 70 flats of the trust to members of the Parsi-Zorastrian community who are on the wait-list for houses

Last week, the office of the charity commissioner asked the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), the apex representative body of the Parsi-Zoroastrians, to allot more than 70 flats of the trust to members of the community who are on the wait-list for houses.

 

Community members say that it is the first time in many decades that so many flats will be allotted at one time. For a community that is declining in numbers, the Parsis-Zoroastrians face a severe housing problem. The BPP has a total inventory of around 5000 flats spread across what are called Baugs in the city and suburbs. The latest housing colony with over 50 flats has come up in Goregaon. For a group that numbers just around 50,000 in the city, there is a list of 900 people waiting for homes.

These home-seekers move up and down the list depending on how many points they have scored. While those waiting for the longest period get maximum points, young married couples are awarded extra points, helping them to move faster up the list. Couples with small children also get preference and so do those with no houses of their own. ?Young people were asked to get married so that they could get extra points and get a flat faster. But many of those who got married, hoping that it would help them get a BPP flat, have children but are still on the waiting list,? said Vispy Wadia, chartered accountant and member of reformist group, Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism (ARZ).

There were allegations that the flats were allotted to the highest bidders while those in the waiting list were ignored. The flats were allotted to community members who could pay a large deposit. When the tenant would leave, the profits from the sale was shared between the old tenant and the BPP, much like the Pagri system that exists in some older residential buildings in the city.

The transactions were transparent as most payments were made by cheques. However, by giving flats for a deposit, the BPP had almost stopped charity and had virtually become a landlord,? said Wadia.

For instance, a 1500-square feet flat in Cusrow Baug on Colaba Causeway, the most sought after colony would cost Rs one crore, much cheaper than the market rate. There were complaints that despite the long waiting lists, flats were kept vacant so that they can be given to the highest bidders. The housing crisis has been blamed for the reluctance by young people to get married, thus perpetuating the demographic decline.

The housing shortage is one of the biggest issues in our community,? said solicitor and columnist Berjis Desai. The issue will dominate the coming elections of the trust. The charity commissioner has been hearing complaints about delays in allotment of trust flats. During some of the hearings, more than 100 people who have been waiting for homes for decades turned up at the charity commissioner?s office. After some members of a group called Alert Zoroastrian Association (AZA) intervened in the dispute, the charity commissioner asked the BPP to solve the vexed issue. ?The charity commissioner has directed that we should sit with the complainants and sort the issue,? said BPP trustee Burjor Antia.

On Sunday, community newspapers carried the names of 31 people who have been allotted homes in the trust colonies. Those who have been allotted homes include an elderly couple with Parkinsons Disease, a girl who works as a maid and a 65-year old man who became homeless when he was asked to leave the company flat allotted to his son who died of cancer.