Mehrwan Irani was against selling the community’s 963-acre plot to a company owned by the family of the Vasai-Virar strongman with a long criminal record
The Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman, whose proposed Rs 722-crore land deal with a construction company owned by Vasai-Virar strongman Bhai Thakur’s family is opposed by a section of the community, on Wednesday voted out its president Mehrwan Irani in a no-confidence motion.
Irani, who was rallying the opposition to the deal to sell the trust’s 963-acre land parcel in Palghar to the Viva Group at Rs 75 lakh an acre, recently refused to sign on the sale agreement with the developer. The trust then moved a no-confidence motion against him on the ground that his actions had adversely affected the trust’s interests.
The trust meeting at the Kermani Building in Fort was preceded by high drama as over 50 community members from Dahanu protested outside the building to lend solidarity with Mehrwan. The police had to be called to disperse the protesters.
While Mehrwan was ousted by a vote of 10-25 in the 36-member body, he managed to keep his place in the board of trustees as less than twothirds of the votes were in favour of removing him from the board. Khodadad Irani, owner of Wibbs Bread, was then appointed president.
“We will not allow the sale to go through to the Viva Group at any cost,” said one of the protesters who did not want to be named. “It is a company backed by Bhai Thakur, a dreaded gangster. Just because Mehrwan opposed the sale, he is being ousted, which we will not allow.”
Jayendra alias Bhai Thakur has several murder, extortion, and land grabbing cases against him. He is the uncle of Palghar MLA Kshitij Thakur who was recently suspended for allegedly assaulting a police sub-inspector. He shot to the limelight in the 1980s when the Vasai-Virar and Naigaon belts were booming. He was sentenced to death for a 1992 shootout at JJ Hospital but the Supreme Court commuted his sentence to life in prison. He was also the prime accused in the murders of developer Suresh Dube and activist Navleen Kumar, who tried to stop Thakur from grabbing adivasi land.
Mehrwan’s supporters alleged that the reason for the no confidence motion was not that he had acted adversely but because the trustees wanted him to clear the way for the deal with the Viva Group. “Once he is out as the president they do not need him to sign the deal,” said a supporter. “It is a clever ploy that everybody has seen through.”
They said Mehrwan tried to stop the deal from coming through by putting several documents in the public domain, following which several members and even the Bombay Parsi Panchayat wrote to the trust asking it not to deal with Viva.
While the trust, which put the plot for sale last year, expected at least Rs 1 crore per acre, Viva Group’s bid was the highest at Rs 75 lakh.
Godrej Properties and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences along with Tata Housing were the other bidders. But since Godrej proposed joint development and the Tatas sought time for a formal proposal, they were not acceptable to the IZA trustees, who were in favour of an outright sale.
A month after Viva was chosen, Mehrwan, who initially favoured the sale, opposed the deal. “He found out that Viva was backed by Bhai Thakur,” said his supporter. “Apart from the fact that land parcel would go in wrong hands, his fear was that the developers might not pay the cost of land and that the trust would not be able to stand up against them.”
With Mehrwan now ceasing to be president but continuing on the board of trustees, there is confusion over the fate of the deal. Both Irani and the other trustees refused to comment.
Bhai Thakur’s nephew Siddharth, who is a Viva Group director, said the company was professionally-run and had nothing to do with the strongman.
“He is not on the company’s board,” said Siddharth. “In fact he was not even aware that the company was purchasing the plot till such reports came out. We are all professionals who are financially capable of taking over the project.”