MUMBAI: Fourteen years after a prime Parsi fire temple property in south Mumbai was sold by the trustees to a builder for a paltry Rs 2.95 crore, the Supreme Court has scrapped the deal.
The apex court directed the trustees of the B C Batliwala Agiary Trust at Tardeo to return the money to builder Astral Enterprises for the 2003 deal. It also imposed a cost of Rs 1 lakh on the developer.
Stating that this “dubious transaction” was not acceptable, the court said it shakes the conscience as to “how such a valuable property could have been sold at such a throwaway price”.
“There was no urgency to throw away the valuable property of the trust… It would have defeated the very object of creation of the trust for the preservation and protection of religion and Parsi culture,” it said.
It also came down heavily on the joint charity commissioner for its “perverse order” for not considering the interest, benefit and protection of the trust.
The apex court, hearing an appeal filed by community member Cyrus Rustom Patel, said the trustees acted in collusion with the developer. This is because no effort was made to ascertain the real market value of the property.
The Batliwala Agiary (fire temple) at Tardeo has been in existence since 1865 and celebrated its 152nd anniversary early this month. Its property is on a 3,012 sq m plot and includes the fire temple building and adjoining structures with 21 tenants.
The trust first entered into a joint venture with Astral Enterprises to develop the adjoining chawl, but also left an option to sell it. According to the development agreement, tenants were to be rehoused, temple renovated, and 33% of the built-up area would be given to the trust out of balance FSI. Besides the Rs 2.95 crore, the trustees wanted to alienate the property as it was a “compelling necessity” and in “interest of the public trust”.
The trustees reasoned that no other builder was coming forth to develop the property. It was in a dilapidated condition; hence the decision was taken in the “best of the interests of the trust to sell the property”. They also requested the charity commissioner to waive the mandatory public notice.
The Supreme Court came down heavily on the joint charity commissioner for abdicating its responsibilities. The commissioner had ruled that it was the trust’s outlook whom to sell the property to and that market value of the property was not a “relevant consideration”.
“The property is located in a prime location of the city (Malabar Hill division near Mumbai Central station), and the market value was, obviously, sky high as compared to paltry sum offered,” said the apex court division bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Mohan M. Shantanagoudar.
“This is a prestigious locality, where one would cherish to own a property, and in the true sense, it would be like a treasure house. We unhesitatingly take judicial notice of the fact that such a huge area could not have been sold for a paltry sum of Rs 2.95 crore. Trustees, as well as joint commissioner, have failed to act in the interest, benefit and to protect the Trust, and the same could not have been sold by such private negotiations,” it added.
It set aside the orders passed by the charity commissioner and the Bombay high court.