Mumbai News: Trust To Sell St Peter’s School Land In Mazgaon To Builder For ₹11 Crore

Mumbai News: Trust To Sell St Peter’s School Land In Mazgaon To Builder For ₹11 Crore

Christians say the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association is illegally representing itself as the custodian of the community’s properties

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Monday, November 13, 2023, 11:53 AM IST
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Mumbai News: Trust To Sell St Peter’s School Land To Builders | FPJ

Mumbai: As St Peter’s in Mazgaon, one of Mumbai’s oldest schools, prepares for its 150th anniversary in January 2024, a scandal over sale of its land rights is threatening to take the joy from the celebrations. A trust called the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association (BDTA) recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a builder to sell the school land’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) for Rs 11 crore.

Under municipal rules, land owners who cannot build on their excess land because of various reasons, including heritage protection for properties that prohibits reconstruction or modification of the structure, can use the unutilised building potential on the land elsewhere north, or sell the building rights to another party for a price. Members of the Church of North India (CNI), the north Indian counterpart of the Anglican Church, have claimed that the trust that signed the MoU is illegally representing itself as the custodian of the community’s properties. The school and the church, like other properties that belong to CNI, are administered by BDTA, a body created after the CNI separated from Church of England. A group of church members, the Christian Reform United People Association (CRUPA), said there were earlier attempts to sell the school’s TDR.

Mumbai News: Trust To Sell St Peter’s School Land To Builders

Mumbai News: Trust To Sell St Peter’s School Land To Builders | FPJ

“In 2009 the earlier application of Mr Amolik and Bishop Gavit (both trustees) separately for the sale of TDR of St Peter’s School was rejected. Now after 14 years a new bunch of anti-church and a self-claimed Bombay Diocesan Trust Association are striking deals with builders to fill their pockets without any knowledge of the Christian community and churches,” said Cyril Dara, an advocate and activist from CRUPA. The BDTA is an elected body of representatives from the clergy and lay church members. But there now are at least four rival groups claiming to be the real BDTA, including the one that has signed the MoU with the builder. The rival claims are pending before the Charity Commissioner, which has legal jurisdiction over all public trusts.

The groups have filed ‘Change Reports’ with the Charity Commissioner staking their claim as the custodian. ‘Change Reports’ are documents submitted by trusts before the Charity Commissioner for approval of newly appointed members to the board of trustees. The Bombay High Court had taken note of the applications from multiple groups claiming to be the real BDTA. In March 2023, while hearing an application from the group involved in the St Peter’s TDR deal about the delay in recognising the real BDTA, the court had said: “We understand that many Change Reports that are yet pending before Charity Commissioner. Our request to dispose these all as expeditiously as possible and, preferably, within six months from today.” The BDTA denied any illegality in the MoU, saying that the trust needs money to run its activities.

Suresh Sable, treasurer of BDTA and one of the signatories to the MoU, said that the school and church owes Rs3.68 crore in unpaid taxes to the municipal corporation. “How will we pay the tax when we have no money? We are not selling our land. We are selling the TDR on the land. What if the government acquires the land to recover the unpaid taxes and the land goes out of the community’s hands?” asked Sable, who added that the MoU will be executed only if the Charity Commissioner approves their application for recognition as the bona-fide trust. “Let CRUPA go to the Charity Commissioner and file a complaint against us. Why will I sign a MoU if we are an illegal body? I don’t want to go to jail at this age,” Sable said, adding that the TDR value was set at Rs11 crore after after a valuation report in March 2023. Reacting to allegations that the TDR should have been utilised for the benefit of the church community and not sold to a third party, Sable said, “When we used our land to build housing for our community, they sold it. We built a 18-storey building near Sir JJ Hospital for our church members. They have sold the homes to non-Christians. Not many Christians stay there any more.” The builder that signed the MoU with the trust did not reply to an email request for a response.

Case history

2005: BDTA signs a transaction with a company for sale of TDR of St Peter’s School land.

2009: Charity Commissioner rejects Change Reports filed by BDTA. This means they don’t recognise the trustees named in the Change Reports as legitimate. BDTA challenges this decision in the Bombay High Court.

2022: Bombay High Court allows BDTA to file fresh applications to the Charity Commission for approval of trustees.

August 2023: BDTA signs MoU with the same company for sale of TDR.

The St Peter’s School

The school was established in 1874 by the Society of St John the Evangelist, a monastic order of men under the Anglican Church. The order is also called the Cowley Fathers because it was founded in Cowley, England.

The school began as a choir school for parishioners of St Peter’s Church that had earlier been built in 1858. In August 1875, the St Peter’s Girls’ High School was started in the area and a year later boys were admitted to the institution.

Apart from being listed as a protected structure under Mumbai’s urban heritage rules, the church and school buildings have space reserved for playground and a municipal school. This means that no new buildings can be constructed in the compound. The MoU signed in August 2023 says that the municipal heritage committee has approved the sale of TDR from the plot.

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