Service Charges, The Pandemic And A Pending Refund!

Need To Implement ‘One Trust – One Rule For All Beneficiaries’

Over the past few months, I have been receiving an increasing number of mails and calls from community members who feel “cheated” and “treated unfairly” by the BPP. This is with regard to the unresolved ‘Rs. 750/- increase in Service Charges’ issue, where these sincere community members, who had abidingly paid up the increased amount Service Charges for 43 months, are now seeking a refund, in keeping with how those who have not paid the same, have got away scot free. 

Let me explain… 

For last Tuesday’s BPP meeting, I had put the following item yet again on the agenda for discussion and consideration by my Trustee colleagues:


To review and resolve to refund the service charges of Rs 750 per month paid by all the tenants/ licensees/ occupants for the period from February 2017 upto August 2021, in view of the fact that the Trust(?) has already decided to:


          a)  Stop the service charges from September 2020


          b) Instructed(???) the administration not to collect the arrears (pre September 2020) of Rs 750 from those who                     were deliberate wilful defaulters to the detriment of the Trust and an insult to the integrity and honesty of                           those who paid.


          c) And in the interest of one Trust one rule for all beneficiaries, be they or be they not, our relatives or friends 


         d) And considering the present financial difficulties of members of the community many of whom have lost their                  jobs, their livelihoods or have had their paychecks reduced substantially or totally. 


        e) Other relevant and connected issues to this main issue of refund of service charges to those who have paid 


Community members may recall that with effect from September last year, the BPP waived the collection of Rs. 750/- increase in Service Charges for all its BPP-held properties (this does not include the 5 Wadia Baugs). 

In past, when I have raised this important item on the agenda, it has gone unheeded. And so, I was forced to raise it yet again. 

When the increase of Rs. 750/- in Service Charges was introduced, many community members were concerned about the sudden substantial increase, but post numerous meetings with various Baug Associations and community activists, almost all were convinced, particularly when shown the financial records, that the BPP had been losing almost Rs. 1,150/- per flat, each month, and was collecting only a part of it – i.e. Rs. 750/- in the form of the increase in Service Charges. What added to the acceptability, was that this increase was made after a huge span of 13 years. It was also decided that these charges would be waived for those community members who were unable to pay due to genuine financial constraints.

Though nearly 85% of flat occupants paid these increased Service Charges, there continued to be a group of people who refused to pay. The Trust, therefore, by law, could not collect the rent and the Service Charges from these defaulters. 

43 months later, the Trust decided to waive off the increase in the Service Charges altogether – this extremely crucial decision was made by the three majority trustees – Armaity Tirandaz, Viraf Mehta and Xerxes Dastur – on their own, in a BPP meeting held on 29th July, 2020, which Trustee Noshir Dadrawala and I were unable to attend!!!

They had passed this waiver with undue haste and without application of mind. Three things distinctly seemed out of line here:

  1. That the minutes of this meeting were partly manipulated to suit the agenda of certain ‘privileged’ community members (the records will prove the same).
  2. That not a single attempt was made to discuss the devastating financial implications on the already cash-strapped Trust – which would lose an additional two crores plus yearly.
  3. That Trustee Viraf Mehta simply refused to allow our (Noshir and my) participation in the discussion when these defaulters’ names came up for ratification, claiming, that ‘since you weren’t present for that meeting, you have no right to be part of the ratification process!’

Coming back… Since some of these defaulters who hadn’t paid the Service Charges or the rent for over three and a half years, were friends of the three majority Trustees, their loyalties needed to be rewarded! And so, the majority trustees passed the resolution – instructing the staff to go ahead and collect the rent of these wilful defaulters and to keep the pending Rs. 750/- of SC per month, outstanding, against their names… sealing the deal with vague and indefinite instructions as regards what was to be done with these ‘arrears’ in the future! 

Not surprisingly, nothing has been done. And these wilful defaulters have been rewarded at a humongous cost to the Trust!  

As the BPP rent-collection software did not allow rent to be collected without the Service Charge, the BPP staff were instructed to prepare individual receipts for each month manually – that is, 43 receipts had to be made manually per each wilful defaulter flat occupant!

With the second COVID wave affecting members of the community even further, I put the item on the agenda suggesting that those law-abiding and sincere residents, who had paid the increased Service Charges to the Trust, should be refunded their money. Many community members, who have lost their jobs or are receiving reduced salaries, are struggling financially and this amount would come to them as a huge relief in these challenging times. 

Also, this current situation shames the BPP and tarnishes its image, as it sets an unhealthy precedent – where wilful defaulters and those who work against the Trust were monetarily rewarded with a waiver, whereas those honest and upright tenants / licensees were penalized with the non-refund of their increased Service Charges!!

If defaulters have been given a clean chit veiled behind ambiguous instructions to the BPP Staff, then surely the same benefits must be passed on to those who were sincere enough to support the Trust by paying the SC, in the first place?? 

A Trust CANNOT and MUST NOT have 2 policies – one for the common Parsi and the other for the benefit of our ‘friends’!  

Though it may not be financially possible to refund the entire amount in one go, the Trust could formulate a policy where 50% of the amount is refunded immediately and the balance is refunded over the next 12 months, by adjusting the same against the rent/license fees. 

Unfortunately, barring Trustee Noshir Dadrawalla, the 3 majority Trustees are not in favour of refunding this amount to the deserving beneficiaries. So far, their only response as regards the financial deficit that the BPP is drowning under, is that they will auction and sell houses in baugs (which were built by our magnanimous charitable philanthropists, for the welfare of poor and underprivileged Parsis) to compensate for this financial shortfall. This is truly an unfortunate and myopic policy, that I have always vehemently opposed publicly. Alternative and viable methods of raising finance have been shot down and sabotaged sometimes by the Trustees themselves and more often than not, by outsiders working closely with these Trustees.

The recorded minutes will prove the subtle manipulations which are driven by the desire to fulfil a political agenda – given the upcoming elections. This is blatantly against the interests of the community and the Trust. And it is only fair and even the right of the community to know what’s been going on, as regards their rightful refund of the ‘waived-for-some’ Service Charges, that they were made to pay for.

 

Leave a Reply

*