This could perhaps be the largest chunk of contiguous land to be put on the block in Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman, a private community trust, will sell its humungous 963-acre agriculture swathe in Palghar, about 110km from Mumbai, to a private developer. In terms of area, the land is more than four times the size of the Mahalaxmi racecourse.
Viva Homes, a construction firm owned by the family of Bhai Thakur, strongman from the Vasai-Virar region, has emerged as the highest bidder with an offer of Rs 75 lakh per acre. The entire deal works out to Rs 732 crore. The developer will pay Rs 108 crore when the MoU is signed and the remaining amount after all the clearances come through. Other bidders in the fray included Thakkers Developers, Oberoi Realty, Keystone Realtors and Gover Minoo Irani.
Viva Homes, run by Thakur’s son Rohan, describes itself as a company that has "emerged as one of the largest land aggregators in Mumbai". Viva Group says it has "formalized several land acquisition deals across
Maharashtra and enjoys successful joint ventures with reputable heavyweights in the real estate space".
However, the impending transaction has set off alarm bells in sections of the Irani community, Zoroastrians who came to India to escape religious persecution in Iran around 200 years ago.
Their contention is that no trust land should be alienated in this manner and that the property be put to use for the community’s welfare. Among those opposed to the sale is Anjuman’s own president, Mehrwan Irani, who is contemplating moving court against his co-trustees.
Irani said he was earlier in favour of selling the land, but later changed his mind because of the manner in which the trust was hurriedly pushing it without looking at other options. "They have no plan as to what to do with the money. Palghar is soon expected to be declared as a district. Once that happens, land prices will shoot up. So why the hurry," he said.
In a letter to his co-trustees, Irani said he had received several objections from community members. "Some of the questions asked were as to how much money (being the cash quotient) was to be received by the Anjuman and was this amount to be distributed to community members or was it to be distributed between trustees/ members of the working committee. Keeping in mind such blatant accusations, I have come to the conclusion that there would be stay orders/ caveats filed with the charity commissioner/courts on the sale …" he said.
Last December, 19 prominent Parsis, including several legal luminaries and doctors, wrote to the Anjuman trustees to consider an offer by the Tatas to start a university on this land.
"The Tatas’ desire to start a university, and for this purpose have made an offer of Rs 35 crore (negotiable) with 8% seat reservation. These seats may be filled by Zoroastrians or sold as management quota by the Irani Zoroastrian Anjuman for centuries to come … This will instantly make Palghar an important educational hub and benefit the whole area," said the letter. The signatories said the Tatas will buy 300 acres and the trustees could spread 100 acres among young community entrepreneurs. Another 100 acres could be sold to Viva builders, they said, while the remaining 465 acres could be leased to the Tatas to hold in trust for the Anjuman for future use.
The Bombay Parsi Punchayat, the largest private landlord in Mumbai, too, warned the Anjuman not to sell the entire land.
The impending deal, perhaps the largest chunk of contiguous land to be put on sale, by the Irani trust has set off alarm bells among Iranis who feel that no trust land should be alienated in this manner.