Fat deposit, low rent: Wealthy Parsis are moving into historic baugs


March 26, 2024

Post by



Bombay | Mumbai

Bai Jerbai Wadia funded 1500 flats in iconic Parsi Baugs. Wealthy Parsis pay high security deposits for residences. The auctioning process has faced criticism for favoring the affluent over the needy in the community.

Article by Nauzer K Bharucha / Mumbai Mirror


Cusrow Baug in Colaba is among five Baugs built on over 35 acres of prime south Mumbai lands

MUMBAI: In the early 20th century, a wealthy Parsi widow from a distinguished lineage acquired vast land parcels and funded the construction of 1,500 flats in 64 buildings for poor and middle-class Parsi families in different parts of Mumbai.

The philanthropist, Bai Jerbai Wadia, great-grandmother of industrialist Nusli Wadia, could not have envisioned that homes in these iconic Parsi Baugs she established for her community’s financially challenged segments would one day exchange hands for several crores of rupees.

Wealthy members of the Parsi community are prepared to shell out substantial sums as a “refundable security deposit” to the Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP) for the allocation of an apartment. These arrangements are on a leave-and-licence basis, with a maximum monthly rent of Rs 10,000. Amid the lively activity of Colaba Causeway, where tourists and shoppers throng, many may overlook the imposing stone entrance that heralds Cusrow Baug, a 14-acre serene Parsi habitation established in 1934. On March 13, a 4BHK (4 bedroom-hall-kitchen) apartment there attracted four contenders, with the highest security deposit surpassing Rs 4 crore. Previously, a larger apartment in the same Baug reached a record-breaking deposit of Rs 6 crore.

At Ness Baug in Nana Chowk, a 5BHK residence (1,699 sq ft) recently garnered a bid exceeding Rs 5 crore. Meanwhile, in Byculla’s Sant Savta Marg, the nearly 10 acre Rustom Baug remains a coveted locale for prosperous Parsis, with apartments commanding deposits between Rs 2 crore and Rs 3 crore.

“Parsis prefer residing within our ‘Baugs’. These are Parsi covenanted gated residential complexes. Given our small population, these baugs offer a comforting and secure environment for community members,” said Adil Malia, a trustee of BPP. He noted that these baugs afford inhabitants “a certain sense of cultural preservation, maintaining their distinct identity in a setting filled with like-minded individuals who share similar beliefs, behaviours, religious practices, dietary habits, mores and traditions.”

“This aspect is vital for us and, to some extent, crucial for the survival of our small community,” Malia added. During the Covid lockdown, residents of the baugs rallied together to safeguard one another, including the elderly, childless, infirm, and those in need.

Tax expert and supreme court lawyer Homi Ranina, who is also trustee of the Karani Agiary (fire temple) located inside the sprawling Cusrow Baug complex, said the BPP, which controls the baugs (along with the Wadia committee) earns substantial money through these security deposits. “When a family leaves the apartment, they receive their deposit back, sans interest. Yet, there’s always another family ready to move in with a higher deposit, allowing BPP to perpetually retain the funds,” he said.

Hoshang Jal, a Cusrow Baug resident and BPP trustee, said by investing in a baug property, families can enjoy a virtually rent-free existence in the city’s core. “The social advantages are vast, including access to clubhouses, gym amenities, children’s play areas, and a variety of events and activities. Plus, the support from fellow community members in a baug is invaluable; in times of need or crisis, there’s always a friend or neighbour to lend a hand,” he said.

Community activist Arzan J Ghadially observed that Parsis have traditionally resided in tight-knit colonies for decades, as most couldn’t afford ownership homes. “This trend continues, but now the dynamics have shifted. Increasing numbers of affluent community members also seek residence in Parsi colonies, and the BPP facilitates their entry into the baugs through indirect means. Through donations and hefty deposits, these affluent individuals gain priority, which the BPP views as revenue generation, though it actually creates more liabilities,” he said.

Ghadially argued that auctioning apartments undermines the Trust’s purpose. “It’s a façade to conceal the trust’s mismanagement. While the poor and needy are told there are no available homes, the wealthy simply enter the BPP boardroom, make a deposit, and gain access to the baugs,” he said.

BPP chairman Viraf Mehta countered this view though. “A tenant gets an opportunity to encash his tenancy, encouraging them to surrender a flat they no longer need or have kept locked or have migrated abroad. A buyer gets an opportunity to enter a Parsi colony and raise his family in a colony atmosphere. The BPP stands to benefit as well from this auction as the landlord, especially in its present cash starved position.’’ He added that only high value flats are auctioned while other flats are kept exclusively for allotment to the deserving as per merit rating.

Trustee Malia said primary sources of substantial income for trusts like the BPP are donations, monthly licence fees, investment returns and interests from refundable security deposits. Post-pandemic, as donations waned, the real income sources are the interest from these deposits, which is crucial for funding BPP’s various religious, social and community initiatives,” he asserted.

She built baugs for the needy in early 20th century

Bai Jerbai Wadia (1852-1926) set out to construct low-cost baugs or housing colonies for lower and middle-class Parsis after the death of her husband, industrialist Nowrosjee Wadia, a descendant of the Wadia family of “Master Builders’’. In his will, he had earmarked over Rs 8 lakh for charitable purposes for the Parsi community.

Between 1908 and 1956, a total of five Baugs were built on more than 35 acres of prime south Mumbai lands. These are Nowroz Baug (Lalbaug), Rustom Baug (Byculla), Bai Jerbai Baug (Byculla), Cusrow Baug (Colaba) and Ness Baug (Nana Chowk).

In 1907, she purchased a six-acre plot at Parel-Lalbaug and built eight blocks and called it Nowroz Baug. Gradually, more blocks were built and today it houses 358 families.

After she passed away in 1926, her son, Nusserwanji (Sir Ness) along with trustees of N N Wadia and R N Wadia Trusts in 1933 acquired 14 acres for Rs 12 lakh in Colaba. The land belonged to the then BBCI (now Western railway). The new colony was named Cusrow Baug and opened on March 21, 1934.