By Trustee Viraf D. Mehta

bpp-virafOver the last few days a lot has been written about a 650 sq ft. 2RK flat in Cusrow Baug being allotted to the BPP’s recently appointed Jt. Dy. CEO Shehnaaz Khambatta, a single person. I have received several calls from members of the community questioning the merits of such allotment and seeking justification for the same.

Let me start by informing everyone that I have dissented to this allotment for several reasons as indicated below.

Ms. Khambatta had originally approached the BPP for a house, sometime last year. The Trustees had rejected her application as ineligible, since she was earning higher than the permissible limit for a free charity flat (over 2 lakhs per month as per her application dated March 2017).

Thereafter, I understand she had met a few of my colleague Trustees separately over and over again, and after several visits to meet the BPP Board as well, the Board agreed to help her and allot her a house as she was almost 60 years old and currently without a job.

As has been the practice of this board, any senior single man or woman is shown a 1RK flat in Navroze Baug D Block. When this was shown to Ms. Khambatta, she reverted saying it was too small for her and she required a bigger flat. Contrary to our past practice, the Board went out of their way and offered and allotted her a 1RK flat in Nirlon, Goregaon in January, 2018. While this was accepted by Ms. Khambatta, she never entered into an agreement for this house nor did she ever stay there. Instead, she chose to continue to spend Rs. 40,000 per month on a rented premise in Oshiwara rather than live in a flat in Nirlon, Goregaon, for comparatively miniscule rent. I wonder if it was always at the back of her mind to get a bigger flat in South Mumbai.

Meanwhile, she joined the BPP in January, 2018 and was hired as a Jt. Dy. CEO, alongside our present Dy. CEO Mr. Aspi Sarkari. I may add that her salary is amongst the top 5 salaries at the BPP, which seems to concern our other staff members who have been associated with us for over decades and yet don’t earn as much.

Within the first few months itself, Ms. Khambatta kept pushing our housing department to shift her closer. She made the late night BPP meetings on Tuesday as the reason for her request.

Yes, the Board worked late hours at that time and the thought process was that for a woman to travel so far late at night would not be safe. Though I must add that Trustee Mrs. Tirandaz does it regularly, without any monetary consideration in return for it, and never have any of my colleague Trustees ever shown similar concerns for her late night travel.  In any event, the Board decided to move Shernaaz closer to the BPP.

In the WCM meeting of May 2018, Yazdi proposed to move Ms. Khambatta to a 2RK in Cursow Baug. I informed the Board that every week we meet families living in congested flats, couples who want to have kids, families who want more children and so on and so forth; but the Board has informed all such cases that the BPP doesn’t even have a 1RK flat to spare, and that they’d have to wait their turn. How then can we justify giving a 2RK flat to a single lady, just because she will someday be the  CEO of the BPP?

Nowhere in Ms. Khambatta’s contract with the BPP is providing a house included. In fact Ms. Khambatta is still on probation and not yet been made permanent. It is out of sheer goodwill that the Trustees have helped her, out of turn.

At this meeting, my colleague Kersi Randeria stated that if Ms. Khambatta was to be CEO someday, she should live in a prestigious colony worthy of a CEO of the BPP. I strongly objected to such preposterous reasoning. Our present CEO, in service of the BPP for over ten years, stays at Malcolm Baug, Jogeshwari and our Dy. CEO Mr. Sarkari, in service of the BPP for twenty years, stays at Nirlon, Goregaon; but neither have ever demanded for a Cusrow Baug flat, much less on the grounds of its proximity to the BPP or the purported prestigious mirage.

Was Kersi trying to say that merely because they lived in the suburbs, they were not worthy to be seen as the senior administration of the BPP? I was appalled with this logic. It appears that housing allotment by the BPP, according to some of my colleagues, has now become a matter that concerns itself with the stature of the allottee.

A lot is being said about Ms. Khambatta’s qualifications in justification for her being allotted a flat by the BPP. I personally cannot see merit in this. Since when has the BPP taken an allottee’s qualification or job experience as a criteria for allotting a house?

Please note that up until this time, there was never any discussion about who replaces our CEO. Never was this discussed by the Board nor has a resolution been passed in this regard. Nor was there any advertisement made to the public for the forthcoming role of the CEO of the BPP. A few of the majority Trustees took it upon themselves to unilaterally decide who will be the next CEO without informing the community or even their colleague Trustees.

At the same WCM meeting, Ms. Khambatta’s allotment was once again brought up. The Board contemplated allotting a particular flat in Cusrow Baug. This allotment was done on the basis of the information/particulars of a certain flat given by the Administration to the Trustees that this flat was a 1RK. However, on returning home, and cross checking with my ‘vacant houses’ list, I learnt that the flat in question that was discussed by the Board was in fact a 2RK. So I wrote to the Board immediately, at around 2am that day itself, informing them of the genuine mistake we’ve made and to put this allotment on hold until we can find a suitable 1RK flat around the BPP.

The very next day I took it upon myself to speak to Ms. Khambatta and informed her that I was the one against her being allotted a 2RK flat and am sure she would understand, considering she is witness to the genuine poor and needy with families and children, coming to visit the board every week, who we cannot help.

To my shock, despite knowing how unfair and unreasonable she was being, Ms. Khambatta went on to justify why she should be given a big house. She begun talking to me about the perks of being senior management (despite her being an employee for barely a few months) and about how if the Trustees wanted, they can make an exception for her. I told Ms. Khambatta that we have staff working with us for 25 to 40 years. I would rather let them enjoy the perks rather than someone who has joined us only a few months ago. And if the Board had to make exceptions, it would again be for those loyal and dedicated employees of ours who’ve worked for decades, not for someone who has worked only for a few months.

I explained to Ms. Khambatta that she had originally come to us for a home; this Board not only indulged that request, but we gave her a job too. She should be grateful and not be greedy.

Instead, she retorted by saying that her salary wasn’t even that high. I told her that she is getting paid amongst the highest at the BPP, and if she was looking for more, then she should be working with a corporate, and not a public charitable trust. What she is earning is far greater, in some cases even more than double, what other staff are getting who have worked for decades.

Ms. Khambatta then went on to tell me that it would “look bad if she invited her friends home and she lived in only a 1RK”, so she would appreciate a bigger house. I told her that everyone would like a bigger house. But we have to prioritise based on merit, not because someone can’t entertain guests in a 1RK.

In the last two and a half years, I have seen dire cases which we have not been able to help, or not been able to help enough. The Board has used every excuse in the book to deny houses to such dire cases. But when it came to the allotment of Ms. Khambatta, the majority trustees seem to have forgotten the reality of things and are hell bent on, in my opinion, an absolute meritless allotment.

Since the majority Trustees wanted Ms. Khambatta to be close to the BPP, and there were no 1RK flats available in Cusrow Baug, Ms. Khambatta was shown a 1RK flat in Khareghat colony. But of course she turned that down claiming it was “too small” and she kept pushing Yazdi and Kersi to give her the 2RK in Cusrow Baug.

At our last WCM meeting in June 2018, just two weeks before elections, this item was again discussed. Kersi once again brought in “stature” and “qualifications” as justification for allotment to Ms. Khambatta. He once again raised the point that if Ms. Khambatta was to be CEO, she would need to have a nice big house in case people came to visit her at home, though knowing full well that hardly anyone visits our present CEO or his deputy at their residence.

Kersi and Yazdi then went on to justify that travelling late would be unsafe for Ms. Khambatta. I would have agreed with them on that issue, but a few weeks ago, only due to my repeated concerns of making our lady staff and Mrs. Tirandaz travel alone late at night, Yazdi finally put an item on the agenda to this effect and the Board agreed to change our present Board meeting timings from 6pm till past midnight to instead 430 pm to 830pm, as Zarir needs to leave by 830 pm due to health reasons.

In light of the above, the question of late night travel to the suburbs does not arise. With no 1RK flat available in Cusrow Baug, I thought a 1RK in Khareghat Colony is close enough for anyone to travel to, at 9pm from the BPP. But the majority Trustees refused to see reason and were persistent and hell bent on making this allotment to Ms. Khambatta. I dissented while Mrs Tirandaz abstained and the Majority had their way, again.

By the scheme of elections, I am bound by the decision of the majority Trustees, even if the decision made is unlawful and against any grain of merit.

However, I am free to express the reasons why I have dissented, which is what I have done by way of this article. The lack of use of the merit rating system by the present Board allows for such meritless and out-of-turn allotments.

As per the scheme, there is a 3% reservation for staff for housing. Since the 2000s, 27 allotments have been made to staff, 5 of them during the current Board. But those allotments have been to families, not to one individual.

Trying to make sense of this allotment, I requested my colleagues that since they were being insistent, they should at least make this a term allotment, i.e. Ms. Khambatta stays here till the time she is senior admin with the BPP. Once her employment with the BPP terminates, then this house can be given to the next CEO of the BPP and Ms. Khambatta can be shifted into a normal premise as is everybody else. Unfortunately this too didn’t sit well with the majority Trustees and they shot my idea down.

As a Minority Trustee, bound by the dictates of the Majority Trustees, I now have to explain to a couple with a suicidal child, in dire necessity of a house from the BPP, that the BPP didn’t have a house to give them, but instead has a 2RK flat to give to our staff only so that she can entertain her friends. And, what is worse, is that my colleague Trustees continue to believe that such allotment is justified.

I have to tell married couples that sorry, we can only give you a 1RK in Nirlon, because the BPP doesn’t have bigger flats to give them to start a family, but I have a 2RK in Cusrow baug to give to a single senior staff without any family, only because she is well qualified and Cusrow Baug would suit her stature and position.

It pains me immensely that the present BPP housing system has been reduced to what a few select Trustees feel, taking undue advantage of their majority, and riding rough shod on the minority’s view and concerns.

I know I may have to work with Ms. Khambatta for a while to come, and my openly expressing my sentiments might be detrimental to our working relationship. But when I have an employee who in her first few months of probation has been blatantly dishonest with me, twice; and who indulges in fractionalizing the BPP staff by playing politics, then I cannot endorse such an employee to be the face of the BPP.

It is extremely unfortunate that the BPP today, has a Chairman without a mind of his own, and is now saddled with a Jt. Dy. CEO who lacks probity and integrity. Regrettably, the Trust continues to suffer.

During the course of this week I was informed, which I have now confirmed, that Ms. Khambatta is not even is an Indian passport holder. She has a Canadian passport and OCI (Overseas citizen of India) card. This Board has never entered into an agreement with a non-Indian. In fact we have filed cases on beneficiaries who have moved abroad and become overseas citizens. I am now informed that Kersi and Yazdi have been very well aware of this from the beginning and have deliberately chosen to keep this piece of information hidden from the Board. Need I say more.

If anyone would like more details or clarity on anything that I have written, please feel free to call me on 9820146244 and I will be able to explain the above in further detail.

Warm Regards,

Viraf Mehta
Trustee, BPP