In 1928, land owner Jamshed Khodaram Irani donated more than 2,300 acres in Palghar near Mumbai to a charitable trust, the Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman. Over the decades, as large chunks were surrendered to the government for various purposes, the trust was still left with a humongous 963 acres (more than four times the size of Mahalaxmi racecourse).
Now, the Anjuman has put the entire sprawl for sale, which property market sources describe as perhaps the biggest land parcel to be put on the block in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).
Global property consultant Knight Frank India, appointed by the Anjuman to invite bids and negotiate the sale, has estimated the land’s value at Rs 1,100 crore. It is located about 2km from Palghar railway station. Knight Frank has been marketing this parcel, about 110km from Mumbai, with one of the options being a potential township.
“The land is constantly under threat of encroachment. It is a difficult task,’’ said Pervez Irani of the Anjuman, adding that selling it now is the only option. “The trust earns Rs 21 lakh every year by selling the grass that grows on this land. A portion of this earning is shared with local communities in Palghar,’’ he said.
Anjuman president Khodu Irani said the proceeds from the land sale will help the trust carry out its charitable activities for the community.
According to the 1928 document transferring the land to the Anjuman, the trust was to use the proceeds from the land for “charitable and religious institutions’’. For instance, starting and maintaining orphanages or schools for Persian Zoroastrian boys and girls or carrying out medical services.
It was also agreed between the land owner and the Anjuman, that if the land was sold, the trustees would hand over the sale proceeds to the Bombay Parsi Punchayet. The income received by the Punchayet will be paid back to the Anjuman for using it for the objects of the trust. It also gave liberty to the trustees of the Anjuman to sell or lease the land as they may think fit.
Community activist Hushang Vakil said it is the trustees’ prerogative to sell the land but only after taking the Parsi Irani Zarathushti community into confidence so that the benefits accrue to our future generations.
Vakil added that the community generally opposed sale of trust properties because of the past cases where caretakers allegedly misused the funds.
“Trustees must be transparent about their plan and intentions, and they should clear any doubts about the financial gains from the sale,’’ he said.
The trust had tried to sell this land a decade ago to a construction firm linked to Bhai Thakur, strongman from the Vasai-Virar region. However, that deal fell through due to strong opposition from a section of the Parsi-Irani Zoroastrian community. Their contention was that no trust land should be alienated in this manner and that the property be used for the community’s welfare. The Anjuman said over the years, the state government had compelled the trust to give 500 acres to Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement and 449 acres to it under the Agricultural Land Ceiling Act.
The state had also planned to acquire the remaining 963 acres at a very low price, the trust claimed.
A decade ago, 19 prominent Parsis, including several legal luminaries and doctors, wrote to the Anjuman trustees to consider an offer by a large industrial house to start a university on this land. “The industrial house’s desires to start a university, and for this purpose have made an offer of Rs 35 crore (negotiable) with 8% seat reservation. These seats may be filled by Zoroastrians or sold as management quota by the Irani Zoroastrian Anjuman for centuries to come… This will instantly make Palghar an important educational hub and benefit the whole area,” said the letter.
The signatories said the industrial house will buy 300 acres and the trustees could spread 100 acres among young community entrepreneurs. Another 100 acres could be sold to Viva builders, they said, while the remaining 465 acres could be leased to the Tatas to hold in trust for the Anjuman for future use. The plan was not approved by the trustees.