Last week, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trust, the largest representative body of India’s Parsi-Zoroastrians, announced that its trustees and the officials of the B D Parsee General Hospital have unanimously decided to promote a new secular wing in the compound of the hospital.
The announcement said that a Zoroastrian couple, members of a business family based in Hong Kong, has agreed to donate 22.5 million dollars (about Rs142 crore) for the construction of the new hospital that will be operated by a prominent Indian hospital chain. The money earned from the secular hospital, which as the name suggests, will be open to all communities, will finance the old hospital which is exclusively for Parsis. As a clarification, the trust added that the land on which the new hospital is constructed will remain the property of the Parsi trust.
The explanation did nothing to pacify fears that the community was on the verge of losing another trust-held property to ‘outsiders’. The announcement has set off a furore among members of the worldwide Parsi diaspora. One person posted a comment on social media saying that the trusts were ‘gifting away’ the property to a private company and wondered whether the ‘donor’ was the broker who negotiated the deal. Another message on social media said that the community was ‘kept in the dark’ about the transaction. ‘To make things worse, in spite of three written requests, sent to the trustees of the Bombay Parsi Panchayet, they are refusing to make the agreement public…’ another person wrote.
The hospital is located in Kemps Corner, one of the most expensive areas in south Mumbai, and the land, according to one estimate that is doing the rounds, is worth Rs2,000 crores. But the century-old hospital, set up to provide subsidised –in some cases, free- medical treatment to Parsis, has been struggling to match its expenses to revenues and donations. Many community members are worried that the hospital will meet the same fate as the Parsi Lying-In Hospital, Fort, which has been closed for decades. The maternity hospital fell into disuse after the Parsi birth rate plummeted. The hospital was shut down and there is a proposal, similar to the one signed up for the Kemps Corner hospital, to allow a private agency to run it. At one time, there were announcements that the city’s largest orthopaedic facility will come up in the premises.
At the B D Parsee General Hospital, the first plans for a secular wing was made around five years when a different set of trustees managed the BPP, but at that time the idea was to create a new trust to look after the section. The entry of a corporate hospital chain has set off suspicion that trust land belonging to the community has been signed off to a private company.
BPP trustees were not available for a comment. Former BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta said that the deal was ‘good’. “It is the need of the hour; we want to give Parsis the best medical facilities,” said Mehta. “But there has to be some transparency. They (trustees) can reveal just the highlights of the deal; otherwise the perception is that they are hiding things.”
The deal is reportedly for 45 years. “There is a confidentiality clause in the agreement, so the trustees have reasons for not making the deal public. There is no clarity on the terms and how Parsis are going to be affected,” said Mehta. “In the absence of information, all kinds of rumours unfortunately are floating around.”