Mumbai Land War: Dyeing To Reclaim

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Industrialist Nusli Wadia is desperate to get back prime properties that his ancestors once leased out, says Shantanu Guha Ray

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

WHEN PESKY reporters crowded outside the offices of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Mumbai earlier this month to seek details of ED’s interrogation of the Raheja brothers — counted among the city’s top builders — the city’s Police Commissioner, Rakesh Maria, got visibly irritated. Saying it was a routine questioning, Maria wanted every one of them to leave the ED premises.

But getting them out wasn’t easy. For, central to the case is the long drawn legal battle between the Raheja brothers and Nusli Wadia, the head of Bombay Dyeing, over 200 acres of prime land in suburban Mumbai. Wadia is claiming Rs 350 crore as damages and the Bombay High Court will now have to decide the fate of one of Mumbai’s largest and most popular malls, Inorbit, in Malad — fondly called the second Bandra — and Mindspace, a BPO hub.

Wadia, Jinnah’s great-grandson, is demanding significant portions of what he claims is his land — all of it in prime locations and leased by his ancestors.

Consider the case of Kumar Mangalam Birla, owner of Century Textile Mill that got 10 acres in Worli in 1897 from Wadia’s great-grandfather Nowrosjee Wadia on a 999-year lease for a monthly rent of Rs 375. Now Wadia — who inherited the property in 1996 — wants it back.

 

Hyper trouble K Raheja Corp’s supermarket chain Hyper City is one of the disputed properties
Photo: Deepak Salvi

Both Wadia and Birla have moved the courts to lay claim on the prime plot worth several hundred crores. Wadia, the sole executor of his father’s will and the administrator of the property, has told the lower court that the Birlas breached the lease deed conditions and must be evicted. The Birla Group, for its part, has filed an originating summons in the Bombay High Court, seeking an interpretation of the lease deed and its conditions. The Birlas, who want to redevelop the land for commercial purposes, want to know whether they can do this without Wadia’s consent. An enraged Wadia terminated the lease agreement last year and stopped collecting rent before moving for eviction. He has challenged Birla’s stand that the High Court has the jurisdiction to entertain the dispute, and says a landlord-tenant matter must first be decided by the small causes court.

Wadia had reacted on seeing a news report in 2007 on the Birla Group wanting to commercially develop the land that was leased to it exclusively for running a cotton textile mill. The land adjoins a large chunk of freehold land owned by the Birlas — on which the mill structures were set up at a cost of Rs 1,50,000 a century ago. It functioned till about 2005, when the Maharashtra government granted permission to close down the long defunct mill.

In the Malad case, Wadia’s lawyers, Doijode Associates, confirm that their client is demanding that these properties be demolished and have asked the court receiver to take possession of Inorbit Mall, Hyper City and Mindspace. Wadia has also sought an immediate ban on all further sale or construction on the 200-acre stretch, worth more than Rs 3,500 crore and owned by the late Eduljee Framroze Dinshaw, who named Wadia as the sole administrator. As expected, Wadia has taken the K Raheja Corp — run by CL Raheja, his sons Neel and Ravi and nephews Rahul S Raheja and Ashish S Raheja — to court on allegations that they violated a revenue-sharing agreement.

Wadia is the owner of the land where the properties of Inorbit, Hypercity, and part of Mindspace stand. The Eduljee Framroze Dinshaw estate was to be paid 12 percent of the revenues generated from lease or sale of the property. But Wadia has charged K Raheja Corp of having sold the properties at a lower cost to its sister companies instead of genuine third party owners. In the court, Wadia has alleged that nearly ten properties have been illegally built by the Rahejas. “I don’t think the structures can be demolished now, but the case is indeed very disturbing,” says a top official of HSBC Bank which has a fairly big operation in Malad. Reliable sources said the Kotak group, which also operated from the place, has recently decided to move out.

The Rs 350 crore corporate war is over 200 acres of prime land

HIGHLY PLACED sources told TEHELKA that Wadia had earlier sought an out-of-court pact to settle the dispute since the stakes were so high, but the talks eventually failed. A Wadia Group spokesperson said: “We have no comments to offer on market speculation.” Officials of the K Raheja Corp in Mumbai could not be reached despite several calls.

This is not all. Last May, Wadia also moved the Bombay High Court against CL Raheja’s brother GL Raheja and his relatives, demanding Rs 1,370 crore for allegedly violating a similar agreement between him and the GL Raheja group for developing nearly 478 acres in Malad. Wadia demanded damages and wanted the Rahejas to demolish the buildings, including Palm Spring Centre and Unique Commercial Complex, built on the land. The cases, pending in the Bombay High Court, have also evoked political interest. “Mumbai’s real estate needs cleaning up,” says local MP Sanjay Nirupam.

For the masses, though, it is all within the great Wadia reclamation drive.

WRITER’S EMAIL
shantanu@tehelka.com

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