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Hurdles to the Hospital

Who would have thought a munificent donation of USD 22.5 million (Rs 145,24,87,500) to perpetuate a long cherished community institution would end up creating a controversy? When Pervin and Jal Shroff of Hong Kong showered their largesse on The B. D. Petit Parsee General Hospital (PGH) in Bombay, they did so with the intention of creating a state-of-the-art, cosmopolitan hospital from whose anticipated surplus revenue the PGH’s losses could be subsidized. The new 200-bed structure to be located in the PGH complex is to be be managed by the Gurgaon based Medanta Group.

What the Shroffs and the PGH managing committee (MC) had not anticipated was the philanthropic proposal getting mired in community politicking. Several voiced their ire at either not being kept abreast of developments or sidelined in the decision making. As in the case of the Parsi Lying-In Hospital (PLIH), those who feel left out can stall or even scuttle the best of ventures.

The PGH property is owned by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), some of whose trustees believe they were not adequately briefed about the agreement with Medanta. The MC replied that a non-disclosure clause required them to remain secretive until the signing. The trustees countered that as owners of the property, the non-disclosure clause would not apply to them.

At an earlier informal meeting, BPP chairman Yazdi Desai had suggested BPP trustees Noshir Dadrawala and Kersi Randeria could serve on the Dr Ardeshir Jehangirshaw Memorial Kohiar Trust that was initially meant to oversee the functioning of the new hospital. The MC rejected the proposal. (In our story, "Another stalemate?" Parsiana, November 21, 2017 we had stated Desai and Randeria wanted to serve on the PGH MC. This has been denied by a BPP trustee.)

This refusal soured relations between some BPP trustees and the PGH core committee which basically oversees the day-to-day running of the Hospital. The full MC meets less frequently. The MC contends, as per the trust deed of PGH, the BPP trustees are custodian trustees and must act in accordance with the MC’s directions.

No sooner was the news of the agreement with Medanta made public, than opposition to the philanthropic proposal began to manifest. The first salvo was fired by lawyer Khushru Zaiwala who wrote to the chairman and managing director of the Medanta Group, Naresh Trehan, claiming the agreement was "patently illegal… Any attempt to turn a minority trust into a cosmopolitan trust without the authority of law would amount to a fraud on charity and would be illegal and void." A copy of Zaiwala’s email was forwarded to the Shroffs by Desai to whom they replied, "It is not our intention to comment or respond to the message from Zaiwala, sufficient to say that he is entitled to his views."

The Shroffs forwarded to Parsiana some comments they received in response to Zaiwala’s email: "I would suggest that this new hospital should be used to treat Parsis only but sadly the donor from Hong Kong is not ready to accept that suggestion partly (due) to the fact that all his kids have married out and he does not believe in Parsi-only causes. I have said this before as well that he should open one somewhere else but he does not want to waste money on land costs," stated Baghzaad Bhomisha.

Kersi Jal Sethna remarked, "What is wrong with these people? Where are they gonna take all that money? Why are they out to destroy our heritage, our properties which our forefathers left us?"

Other critics alleged that Medanta gave only a two crore rupees deposit and a four crore rupees bank guarantee, a meager amount for a 45-year agreement. They argued should the medical powerhouse decide to abandon the deal in two years’ time when the new hospital building is ready, they could afford to forfeit the paltry amount. The MC counters that should Medanta walk away, other parties would step forth.

A similar chain of events occurred in the sad saga of the PLIH where the property is owned by the BPP but run by a MC. Here also the PLIH MC turned down a request to include the then BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta and BPP trustee Khojeste Mistree on their MC. When the proposal with Krimson Health Care Private Limited to develop the former maternity Hospital into a state-of-the-art orthopedic hospital was okayed by the MC, a majority of the BPP trustees and the Bombay High Court, Mehta moved the Supreme Court to stall the transaction. He claimed no public advertisements were issued for the venture and that better offers were ignored. By then, Krimson lost their patience and withdrew their proposal. Mehta termed the withdrawal a victory. The PLIH today is languishing, bereft of viable offers.

In the PLIH matter, Krimson was to invest Rs 100 crores (USD 15,490,667) in the project while in the PGH project the Shroffs are donating Rs 150 crores to construct the building which Medanta is to equip. The PLIH has been moribund for nearly 30 years. The community’s falling birth rate, a Parsi population shift to the suburbs, plus a host of local nursing/maternity homes opening, rendered the PLIH in the commercial Fort area, redundant.

The PGH also faces similar problems but it is a functioning, loss making Hospital as many of its patients are indigent, the elderly and even the homeless. The PGH’s annual operating losses are in the eight to 10 crore rupees (USD 1,549,067) range. Well-to-do patients opt for other, better equipped hospitals.

The Shroffs had labored over the various alternatives to provide a sustainable solution to PGH’s continued, staggering losses. "We (Pervin and I)  personally did ​ consider financing,​ the setting up of a small unit​ on the grounds of the PGH ​with the latest ‘diagnostic’ equipment for the exclusive use of our Parsi community, but after consultation with some of our prominent Parsi doctors at the PGH ​and our own investigation it became evident that lack of constant (regular) usage would ‘deteriorate’ the ‘functionality’ of the expensive  equipment."

The Shroffs reiterated, "no part of the PGH land belonging to our community is being alienated… Ownership remains 100% in the hands of our community… Medanta will pay a substantial annual payment to the existing PGH… (plus) a percentage of the annual gross billable revenue. Medanta will assist PGH free of cost in training nursing staff and medical personnel attached to the existing PGH. Medanta will give preference to poor, indigent and weaker section of our community, referred to by the existing PGH…

"After nearly three years of exhaustive negotiations with various parties and with the FULL support and encouragement of the BPP (as per BPP letter… dated June 18, 2014) we believe we now have the best solution."

Whether their laudable objectives are realized is to be seen.



Villoo Poonawalla