Godrej Properties and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) have renewed their offers to develop a 963-acre sprawl in Palghar owned by the Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman Trust.
By Nauzer K Bharucha, TNN
As first reported by TOI last month, the Parsi-Irani community had opposed the trust’s decision to sell the land to Viva Homes, a realty firm owned by the family of Vasai-Virar strongman and former Tada detenue Bhai Thakur. Viva had emerged as the highest bidder (Rs 75 lakh per acre) when the trust invited tenders last year.In a fresh letter dated March 14 to the Anjuman, TISS said it "wished to explore the possibility of holistic development" of the land along with Tata Housing. TISS offered to establish a national vocational university (proposing to be named after Ratan Tata with his consent) to impart skill education. "The Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman Campus of TISS will offer professional courses in the areas of health, education, rural development, etc…," said the letter. It also added that Tata Housing proposed to develop a mixed township, including affordable housing. "Reasonable concession will be given for housing/flats to the less privileged members of the Irani and Parsi Zoroastrian community."
Last month, Godrej Properties too had reiterated its interest to develop the land on a joint venture basis for the "benefit of Zoroastrian community at large". "We propose to develop an integrated township that will have schools, colleges, hospitals, residential housing, etc. We will also provide a refundable deposit to the trust while entering into the development agreement," said Godrej Properties.
However, the Anjuman defended its decision to sell the land to Viva Homes, stating that the money will be utilized for the community’s benefit.
It said it would earn an annual income (interest) of Rs 56 crore by hiving off this land. "Unlimited financial help can be provided towards medical, educational and relief of poverty purposes to the community members. At present, the trust earns about Rs 20 lakh per year from the sale of grass that grows on the land," it said.
"The intention to sell the entire land was to avoid acquisition of even part of it by the state government as experienced by the Anjuman in the past. The more we delay, the government will get an opportunity to decide on the acquisition," said the trustees.
The Anjuman said that it had consulted legal advisors and the Bombay Parsi Punchayat to draft a suitable MoU with the developer after "taking maximum precautions in the matter of timely payment". Debunking concerns about Viva Group and its association with Bhai Thakur, the Anjuman said this developer had purchased lands belonging to the Irani community and other communities in this region earlier as well. "There are no adverse reports (against Viva)," it said.
The trustees said that the suggestion to break up and sell smaller land parcels is "fraught with danger". "The trust cannot enter into joint ventures with developers as it would amount to doing business, which is not permitted under trust laws. The 963 acres were exempted by the state government under the Agriculture Land Ceiling Act with certain conditions," they said.
The Anjuman claimed that the government was keen to acquire its land for ONGC. However, a community lawyer, requesting anonymity, said, "If ONGC is going to acquire the land, then it may acquire the land from Viva as well. Why would Viva be interested in purchasing the land, if it is aware of an ONGC acquisition being initiated by the government unless there is no acquisition by the ONGC in the first place?"