“L&L-To-Tenancy For ALL – Not Just The Rich,” Says Trustee Kersi Randeria

The last few days have seen a spurt of advertisements claiming that while the three trustees wish to convert all Leave and Licences (L&L) to Tenancy, it is one Trustee Kersi Randeria, who is not just objecting but has also stayed the process of converting L&L to Tenancy.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

The L&L-Tenancy controversy started with Trustee Viraf Mehta tabling a very superfluous so-called ‘legal opinion’, which apparently was hastily prepared and put up before the Board. This legal opinion was, in reply, purportedly to a one-line query raised by Trustee Viraf Mehta which said, what are the impediments to convert L&L to tenancy.

The legal opinion primarily said cancel the L&L and make a fresh Tenancy Agreement, and pay the stamp duty. Period.

Such a superfluous legal opinion, without going into the details of the fiduciary duty of trustees, or the legal impact of such a transaction should it be challenged before the Charity Commissioner or the courts… nothing was dealt with, in this order. 

More importantly, it should be noted that on 22nd February, the Divisional Bench of Bombay High Court was to finalize the Scheme of Elections and fix the schedule for the elections, either on that day or within a few days, thereafter.

Since no time was given to the trustees to even read and understand this so called legal opinion, leave aside consulting senior legal, tax and audit experts, Trustees Noshir Dadrawal and Kersi Randeria requested that such a major policy issue as this should not be decided by a Board whose term was scheduled to end shortly.

However, the 3 trustees tried their best to ram it through.

The resolution in itself, when read, clarifies and confirms that none other than Trustee Xerxes Dastoor said, that we had made a commitment to the court not to take any major policy decisions and he also said that we could have a preliminary discussion, but not take any action on this.

Thus, it wasn’t Trustees Dadrawala and Randeria who objected, it was Xerxes Dastoor who recorded his objections! This is in the recorded minutes of the meeting. 

However, thereafter, the three majority trustees passed a resolution, noting a few very important points:

  1. That Deposits taken from beneficiaries would be converted to donations. This very statement indicates that this so-called conversion benefit was more for the rich, who had paid deposits, rather than the ordinary Parsi beneficiary.
  2. The resolution also was not a conclusive resolution, as it stated, very clearly, as this resolution was being approved, subject to it being approved by the auditors, legal expert and tax experts. How then, can a resolution be said to have been passed and approved, is anyone’s guess

Despite these objections, the three Trustees approved converting 3 L&L agreements to tenancies, once again, subject to certain conditions. Each of these 3 so-called beneficiaries, are known close friends and strong supporters of the Mehta-Tirandaz-Dastoor camp. That this was going to be used as a political tool and an election gimmick was doubly emphasized by the 3 names that were chosen.

Trustee Randeria then approached the Election Commissioner, not from the point of view of objecting to the conversion of the L&L to tenancy scheme, but objecting to the timing of this drama, stating that this was nothing but a political sop, a gimmick to garner votes, with false promises.

The Election Commission upheld his view, and stated that this was indeed a major policy decision and should not have been taken. It also upheld the view that it was a sop being given for electoral benefits, and instructed the three trustees not to take any further action, either generally in terms of the resolution, or specifically in terms of the three names they had approved.

As per Clause 15 of the Code of Conduct: ‘No inducement, financial or otherwise, shall be offered to the voter.’

Relevant excerpts from Chief Election Commissioner, Commodore Aspi Marker’s Order dated 08 Apr 2022:

  1. The CEC, in consultation with the five other ECs, has evaluated the submissions made by the Complainant and the Respondents and examined the documents on record. The discussions and the decisions of the CEC are as follows:

(viii) Considering that this proposal to convert L&L into Tenancy was a matter of discussion for so many years in the past, passing the resolution on 21st February 2022 just the evening before the final hearing of the election petition was to commence the next morning, does indicate that the resolution was passed keeping in mind the imminent elections and the curbs which were proposed to be imposed post the Scheme and CoC coming into force.

(ix) The actual act of conversion of three out of the 1900 BPP licensees, on 22nd March 2022 when the CoC was in force, has to be seen in this light. When this is done, there is no doubt that the actual act of conversion does, broadly amount to a premeditated inducement to the voters within the meaning of Clause 15 of the CoC.

(x) The Resolution dated 22nd March 2022 must also be seen independently of the Resolution dated 21st February 2022. Seen even in this light, the same would constitute an inducement to the voters within the meaning of Clause 15 of the CoC.

In gross violation of the direction of the Election Commissioner, the three, in blatant disregard of the Order, have now started advertising it, speaking of it in the minutes and have even used it in a promotional video for their campaign. 

The rather pathetic argument of the 3 trustees was that they were doing this on the grounds that they wished to bring parity between the Licensees and the tenants. They have not dealt with how they intend to protect the Parsi covenant, they have not dealt as to how the poor and middle class should also benefit and they’ve not dealt with the consequences from the point of view of Income Tax and other tax issues, if such a policy were to go through.

However, Kersi Randeria was aghast at this obvious favouritism towards the rich friends of these trustees. In an email dated 21st March, 2022, he has written:

“1. After completing the conditions recorded in the resolution passed by the three Trustees (conditions underlined for identification) in the Board meeting of 21-2-2022, the Trustees resolve to first consider the poor and middle class Parsi and Irani beneficiaries (and NOT THE RICH AND THE ULTRA RICH) for availing the benefits of any such policy by BPP PAYING THE STAMP DUTY AND REGISTRATION CHARGES FOR AND ON BEHALF OF OUR LESS FORTUNATE BENEFICIARIES AND ONLY AFTER THAT CONSIDER THE MORE AFFLUENT MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY (INCLUDING THEIR FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS) for tenancy.”

  1. No rich beneficiaries be given tenancy till each and every poor and middle class beneficiary is given the tenancy rights
  2. Trustees to declare on oath their relationship (familial relationship, personal friendship or persons from whom or from whose family members the Trustees or their family members have received any help or advantage) with the beneficiary who is requesting out of turn for tenancy rights.”

This item was put immediately on the agenda as per the Trustee Randeria’s request.

Randeria was clear, if such a benefit was legally possible from the tax angle and the audit angle, then it should not be given to the rich. But rather, this protection should be first and foremost given to the poor and middle-class beneficiaries – the ordinary Parsis in the baugs, rather than to those rich Parsis who have given donations and deposits.

This is what Randeria has said and this is what he wants. Therefore to say that one Trustee is opposing the conversion of L&L to tenancy is not true. 

The division in the Boardroom, as has been over the last 3 years, is simple. Trustee Randeria stands for the poor and the middle-class and wants that the benefit of this conversion must first be given to them, unlike the three other Trustees who would rather give it to their family and friends. 

Those who are unable to pay lakhs of rupees in stamp duty cannot be left as Licensees, whereas those who can afford to pay, get their tenancies. This unfair disparity between rich and poor must not be allowed to be perpetuated further.

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