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Brouhaha over bonus

The sorry saga of the unpaid bonus by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) to its employees (see "A masoor dal Navroz," pg 34), underlies the decay that has set in the onetime premier trust. While other smaller anjumans and associations in India and abroad with fewer assets and members are able not only to make ends meet, but raise crores of rupees or millions of dollars to repair community property and even build new centers, why has the once mightiest of community institutions reached a state of financial bankruptcy?

Bonus has to be paid within eight months of the close of the financial year. If the BPP custom is to pay bonus before Navroz, the trust should perforce do so at that stipulated and auspicious time. Employees budget their expenditure accordingly. As a trust that prides itself on cultivating Parsipanu, they should honor this tradition. Being bereft of funds and not having the ability to generate them, is not the fault of the employees. This is management’s responsibility.

Many organizations go through rough patches where they are unable to meet their financial commitments. Wages are deferred, vendors are unpaid, loans unreturned. But at least they attempt to placate their employees, reassure their suppliers, explain to the banks/lenders their intention to repay as and when able. At the BPP however, the labor is threatened with legal action for taking mass casual leave for a day. The union leaders are publicly berated and community sentiment is aroused against the employees. Divide and rule appears to be the policy.

If the three-year labor agreement is overdue by eight months (last time the contract was overdue by one-and-a-half years due to the trustees’ infighting), are the union leaders to do nothing but wring their hands in anguish? Is any form of protest to be viewed as enemy action instead of a measured response for which adequate notice was given to avoid excessive inconvenience?

One trustee lamented the class IV employees in Parsi colonies allegedly work only two hours a day. If this is true (some residents refute this allegation), merely moaning about worker lethargy will not resolve the issue . Baug representatives complain they have little say if BPP workers shirk their duties. This managerial lapse has to be rectified.

Some trustees argue that the BPP should pay the bonus by utilizing funds accrued from the deposits received for transferring tenancies in the well run Wadia colonies. Their grouse is that Wadia family scion and industrialist Nusli Wadia opposes spending from this corpus. Wadia is right. Deposits are shown as liabilities in a balance sheet because they have to be returned at some point. A hundred or two hundred crore reserve could be easily liquidated in a few years leaving the trust truly bankrupt. One trustee noted he was against auctioning tenancies and likened it to selling family silver, a last resort for the once wealthy. The same applies to liquidating deposits to meet recurring expenditures.

The argument that the tenancy of vacant flats can be auctioned and more monies garnered is short-term thinking. As the community numbers continue to decline precipitably, the demand for residences will fall. Poona which once had people queuing up for accommodation, has vacant flats and no claimants. The same is the case all over the country where Parsi numbers continue to decline alarmingly. With the BPP’s inconsistent policies due to the trustees’ penchant for internecine squabbling, name calling and writing scurrilous and defaming emails, Parsis may be wary of investing their hard earned savings in the hands of such a landlord. At one time the Charity Commissioner had at the trustees’ inadvertent request ordered a status quo on all BPP property for almost three years. This meant no Parsi could surrender their tenancy or bid for a new one or enter into a leave and license agreement.

The Doongerwadi deficit last year was around 4.5 crore rupees (USD 6,35,550) and will be more this year. The community cannot overlook the three crores spent to bar two priests from praying at Doongerwadi and two fire temples run by the trust some years back. Their crime? The duo performed Zoroastrian funeral rituals for Parsi Zoroastrians opting for cremation. The main reason a compromise was arrived at is because the BPP was running low on funds to pay the lawyers. One hearing alone in the Supreme Court can cost Rs 20,00,000 (USD 28,234) to Rs 30,00,000 (USD 42,351). The lawyers on the priests’ side worked gratis. Their loyalties lay with the cause, not their egos. Another Rs 50,00,000 (USD 70,655) to Rs 75,00,000 (USD 1,05,983) was spent to prevent Muncherji Cama from withdrawing his technically incorrect resignation from the trust. If after all this wasteful expenditure the BPP says they have no money to pay the Navroz bonus, can one blame the employees for agitating?

Payment of interest on monies belonging to other anjumans and kept with the BPP for safeguarding/investment is delayed. Anjumans that ask for a return of the capital sum, leave aside the interest, find it hard to retrieve the monies.

If the BPP does not have the liquidity to pay interest on loans, how will they pay monthly salaries which must be over a crore? The income from rent may be around seven crore rupees (USD 9,88,634) a year. As the BPP does not publish their annual accounts, or for that matter any report whatsoever, one can only guess at the figure unless some friendly trustee obliges.

The BPP run Godavra Agiary in the Fort precinct, about half a kilometer from the BPP offices, looks decrepit. For all their talk of being defenders of the faith, the premises have been neglected. The trust is struggling to raise funds and as a last resort, one of the trustees may donate some monies to see the basic repairs through.

Aside from the interest accrued from their dwindling fixed deposits, what other source of revenue can the BPP count on? The answer is donations. This is how Delhi refurbished its dharamshala and agiary, how Mahuva restored their hall, how New York raised five million dollars (Rs 35.40 crores) to build a new Dar-e-Mehr. Due to the trustees’ machinations, the image of the BPP is at its lowest ebb. No prudent person would make a donation to such a fractiously led body.

The BPP is leading the community into an abyss and no one appears willing or able to stem the rot.



 

Villoo Poonawalla