BPP Housing: A Donor’s Promise, A Beneficiary’s Distant Dream

The new BPP Board started working in October 2015. For the first three and a half years, we proudly proclaimed to one and all, that BPP was not selling any houses and genuinely catering to the needs of the poor and underprivileged community members, especially in need of Housing.

However, from Day One itself, my colleague Trustee, Viraf Mehta emphatically insisted that the Board should sell charity flats, or to put it in a more technically correct manner, give away these charity flats against humongous payments, on leave and license basis, to the rich of the community.

The Trustees resisted this move for three and a half years, but unfortunately, some of my colleagues Trustees were swayed into believing that this was the way out of the financial crunch that the BPP found itself in. After Xerxes Dastur was elected to the BPP Board, the Mehtas were further emboldened, and with the complicit support of Armaity Tirandaz, any kind of empathy for the poor has been abandoned.

For the record, over the last two and a half years, this sale of charity flats has reached its pinnacle, where almost every house that comes to the Trust, is being auctioned. Despite this, no trustee can put his hand on his heart and say the BPP is out of the financial crisis. So, what then is the problem? What are the facts?? And most importantly, what is the solution???

Members of the community will have noted that below every auction notice published, I have always recorded my dissent. A wise person asked me a few months ago, as to why I continue to record my dissent and do nothing beyond that, as my dissent, without any action, was becoming a joke.

So why is the selling of these charity flats illegal? A TRUSTEE is a MERE CUSTODIAN of the property. A trustee is NOT THE OWNER. The very word, ‘Trustee’, itself enumerates that the properties have been put in trust by the donors, for the trustees to implement their wishes. The Trust Laws do not permit Trustees to go against the wishes of the donor, at least, not without obtaining proper legal permission from the charity commissioner!

And yet here we are, merrily ignoring the wishes of our generous donors and dealing with their property in an unfaithful and shameful manner, as if the Trustees were the owners of the property and could do whatsoever they wished with it!

I chose not to go down the path of legal challenge as I wanted to protect the Trust from getting into a legally untenable position. However, I am taking the first step by going public with the facts and figures, in the spirit of transparency, for community members to understand, and for BPP Trustees to work within the frameworks of the law and the boundaries of the Trust Deeds.

Let me start with the last few months, where the new normal has become synonymous with the lock down restrictions imposed on the city. The poor, middle-class and needy applicants have not been able to approach or meet the Trustees. Only a small percentage have managed to get their requests recorded through emails or personal calls to Trustee that they might know. There are over 50 such names languishing on our weekly agenda for many months now.

So, what happens to the rich who can afford to buy charitable flats at discounted rates? Here is how the rich benefit from charity flats which are being auctioned. Only a wealthy person can afford to pay Rs. 2 – 3 crores to the BPP as a Refundable Deposit. It requires no genius to understand that most of the times, the buyer will have a few more crores lying around or has raised this finance by selling off posh ownership houses and using part of the funds to buy a charity flat in BPP/Wadia properties.

A cosmopolitan flat, which would cost Rs. 7 – 10 crores just outside the gates of, say, Cusrow Baug, now becomes available to this rich Parsi in just Rs. 2 – 3 crores, as a charity flat. Outside, such flats would have minimum outgoings of maybe Rs. 20,000 – 50,000 per month, depending on various criteria. But in the BPP premises, the incoming occupant pays a grand sum of max around Rs. 5000/-, for which he gets all the services of maalis, watchmen, security, support staff for the plumbing and carpentry needs, etc.

Facilitating the rich who are waiting in queues to buy these charity flats, the Trustees, at one time, even considered organizing virtual or e-inspections of the charity flats that they wish to offer in auction. The lockdown has not deterred the auctioning of charity flats. In fact, the Trustees have already conducted more than a dozen auctions electronically! Quite a few of the buyers were close personal friends f some of the Trustees, which to my mind, is not surprising.

So, did auctioning of the charity flats really alleviate the financial issues of the BPP in a holistic manner catering for its secure financial future?  

In fact, barring an isolated case or two, EVERY charity flat, particularly in the Wadia Baugs, was auctioned! Is this sale of flats helping the BPP build a corpus, as has been so widely proclaimed and debated? The truth is, instead of helping the BPP, these auctions are, in fact, causing serious harm, not just from the legal standpoint, but also from the accounting point of view…

One needs to understand that these amounts taken by the BPP when selling charity flats, are under the heading of ‘Refundable Security Deposits’ – the keyword being REFUNDABLE. A ‘Refundable Deposit’ automatically becomes a liability in the balance sheet. This means that the Trust isn’t allowed to use that money and has to keep it aside, so as to refund it when so demanded by the buyer of the charity flat, when he decides to leave the premises.

Now though the interest on such deposits, can and may be used by the Trust for its expenses, what is the underlying reality?

As far as only the BPP flats are concerned (not including flats in Wadia Colonies), one would be aghast to look at the figures and understand the implications! Out of over Rs. 65 crores collected by the BPP as Refundable Deposits over the last 12 years or so, only about Rs. 4 crores have been refunded to those who have claimed their deposits. Of the balance Rs. 61 crores, only Rs. 14 crores are in Fixed Deposits. Almost Rs. 47 crores have disappeared, under the heading of ‘Day-to-Day Trust Expenses’!!!

The Auditors of the Trust have pointed this out and I am sure there will come a time when they will have to answer to the authorities and the Community, as to why they have turned a blind eye to this unacceptable practice.

However, all is not lost. The BPP Elections will soon be upon us, in October 2022. And again, the Trustees who are seeking re-elections will go before the community with handkerchiefs in their hands, offering to wipe the tears of the poor, promising to house them – just as they and their families and their coterie have been regularly doing, at the time of each and every election!

It is the gullible Parsi community members who take these unsympathetic Trustees/candidates at face value and vote for them, little realising the harm they cause to themselves, their family members and to their future generations.

Kersi Jamshed Randeria
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