HC verdict on Parsi trust row soon


February 12, 2007

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Bombay | Issues

Come Thursday and the Parsi community will know whether most of the trustees including chairperson Minoo Shroff can continue on the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) board.

The Bombay high court will on February 8 decide if the controversial resignation and its subsequent withdrawal last June by four of the six trustees of the BPP was valid or not.

On Monday, the high court witnessed an all-out legal fight between three prominent Parsis—Khojeste Mistree, Hoshang Wania and Yazdi Desai—and the over 350-year-old Bombay Parsi Punchayet and its six trustees—Minoo Shroff, Dinshaw Tamboly, Maneck Engineer, Burjor Antia, Dinshaw Mehta and Dadi Engineer. The community had been thrown into a tizzy when the first three trustees—Tamboly, Engineer and Antia—sent in their resignations, followed by chairperson Shroff’s resignation.

A public outcry in the community forced them to withdraw their resignations and they rejoined the board. But the drama did not end there. In their suit before the high court, the Parsi trio belonging to Wapiz—World Alliance of Parsi-Irani Zarathustris—last October questioned if the withdrawal of the resignations was valid and whether they could rejoin the board of trustees. They said they were, through the suit, seeking “proper and correct administration of the scheme of appointment of trustees to the Parsi Punchayet.”

In court, the issue revolved around a technical point as each side cited the law to prove their case. All arguments hovered around a rule that says all resignations should be addressed to and received by all the trustees.

The plaintiffs represented by senior counsel Virendra Tulzapurkar argued that all the trustees had received copies of the resignation letters and, hence, the resignation was valid and final.

But senior counsel Iqbal Chagla with Darius Khambata and Shyam Mehta, who represented the Punchayet, countered by saying the first three resignations were addressed only to the chairperson and not all trustees. “Sending copies of the resignation letters was not enough,” said Chagla, pointing out that when the chairperson had resigned he sent the letter to only the two remaining trustees. “If the first three had not validly resigned, the chairperson’s letter should have been addressed to all the trustees,” the trust argued.

Chagla also challenged the HC’s jurisdiction to decide on the issue of the resignations, saying as per section 47 of the Bombay Public Trust Act only the charity commissioner has the jurisdiction to do so. Justice Roshan Dalvi who heard the matter reserved her orders for Thursday. The orders, once passed, will effectively seal the issue, making it one of the few cases to be swiftly disposed of in court.