Wadias want back Parsi colonies their ancestors developed

The Wadias have taken exception to the BPP using the rent from these properties to pay the salaries of Parsi priests

Industrialist Nusli Wadia, whose family developed five housing colonies for the needy Parsis in the 1900s, wants the control of the colonies back with the family trust.

By Yogesh Sadhwani | TNN

The family has taken exception to the way the funds generated through rent from the five colonies ­ Nowroz Baug, Lalbaug; Rustom Baug, Byculla; Cusrow Baug, Colaba; Jer Baug, Byculla; and Ness Baug, Nana Chowk ­ are being utilised by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, the custodian and administrator of the properties.

20_05_2014_001_010_009Nowroz Baug (1908), Rustom Baug (1924), and Jer Baug (1947) were developed by Bai Jerbai Nusherwanji Wadia, the remaining two were developed by her sons.

The Wadias want a return to the arrangement existing till early 1950s when the colonies were administered by the Wadia Trust.
The family trust ceded control of the properties when it was merged with the Bombay Parsi Punchayet.

The Wadia Trust has made several representations to the BPP asking it to return the colonies, so that it can maintain them and also utilise the funds generated through rent solely for the five housing complexes’ upkeep.

While four BPP trustees have no objection to restoring the colonies to the Wadias, the other three, including punchayet chairman Dinshaw Mehta, are against any such move. With the matter now deadlocked, sources reveal that one of the two sides will soon move court.

The five colonies built between 1908 and 1956, spread across 64 buildings and 35 acres of prime land, have 1500 housing units. The rent for these houses starts at Rs 500 a month. While the colonies were developed to accommodate poor Parsis, some of the properties given out recently have steep rents and deposits running into lakhs.

Though within the BPP there is a Wadia Committee of Management, which looks the daily upkeep of the five baugs, the real control of the properties vests with the Punchayet. Wadia Committee of Management is helmed by Nusli Wadia and his son Ness.

An insider said that the Wadias began seeking the properties back after the BPP withdrew Rs 2 crore from a corpus created for the buildings’ maintenance to pay the salaries of `mobeds’ (Parsi priests). “Though there is no provision in law as such, the monies were never used for anything else other than the upkeep of five colonies,“ said the insider.

The Wadias objected to the move, but their objections were ignored. “This is when the Wadias demanded that the control of the colonies be vested with their trust,“ he said.

Dinshaw Mehta, however, feels that the withdrawal of the money was well within the BPP laws.

“BPP is the custodian and owner of the five colonies. Nowhere in the law is it written that the revenues from these colonies cannot be used for any other purpose. There is Rs 120 crore lying in the corpus which has been received from these five colonies. Instead of it lying idle, we ought to use it for a good cause and in this case we used it to pay the salaries of mobeds.“

Over the past few months the two sides have had several rounds of talks. The trustees on the Wadias’ side are Yazdi Desai, Khojeste Mistree, Jimmy Mistry and Arnavaz Mistry. While none of these four trustees were available for comment, sources said they believe that the BPP has become a political body and cannot be trusted with the custody of such valuable community properties. “A trustee can tomorrow commercially exploit the five Baugs and hence setting up a separate trust to ensure welfare of Parsi tenants is the only way out,“ the source said.

Despite several attempts, Nusli Wadia could not be contacted. His corporate communications team said that he was travelling and said that they would try to get him to respond to a mail sent by Mumbai Mirror.

Mehta, meanwhile, is ready for a prolonged battle. “Even if there is a vote and I lose, I will take this matter to court. We cannot give up five colonies which house needy Parsi families. The Wadias are giants in real estate industry and we believe that they are eyeing the five colonies for commercial gains. Under no circumstances will we give up. We have been told that the Wadias might approach a court soon but we are willing to put up a fight,“ he said.