Parishioners at Thane’s Our Lady of Mercy Church recently learnt their former priest surrendered development rights over half of their 37,500 sq ft plot to the Hiranandanis in 2007 for Rs 30 crore less than the market value Seeking to protect their remaining land, 400 parishioners came together on Sunday morning to conduct a survey but were driven away by powerful local corporator Jitendra Indise
Four hundred parishioners of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Thane, who gathered to conduct a survey of their land on Sunday, were driven away by powerful local corporator Jitendra Indise. The reason for their survey is the recent revelation that their former priest, Father John Rumao, handed over development rights to 21,000 sq m of the church’s original 37,500 sq m land to a builder in 2007. While the deal itself was not a secret, Father Rumao’s reason for surrendering the rights – that it had been encoached upon extensively – was not known to them until recently. They say the plot is – and has alway been – free of encroachments. Apart from this, what has taken parishioners by surprise is the Rs 20 crore figure for the TDR deal, whichtheynowbelieveshouldhavebeenaround Rs 50 crore at 2007 rates.
At the centre of the controversy is 37,500 sq meters (9.26 acres) of land in heart of Thane city. Parishioners say that Father Rumao, their sole trustee, handed the rights to Hiranandani Developers to give the reserved plot to the civic body andclaimtransferofdevelopmentrights(TDR)in exchange.
“What is shocking is that the playground has always been free of encroachment. There were never any slums on it. The church could have developed the playground on its own and sold the TDRintheopenmarketorevenusedittodevelopment on our own land. The trustee misrepresentedfactstothecharitycommissionertoletthedeal go through,” said a parishioner, who did not wish to be named.
“We were not aware of the reasons given for the deal. Moreover, we believed that the deal was done for the right price. But now, having seen the documents, we were are all taken aback,” said Thomas Joseph, a parishioner member the church’s property committee.
The drama unfolded when parishioners decided to construct a new building for their church and second one for Little Flower High School, which the church runs.
While working on the plan, they dug up several old documents, including those pertaining to the deal between Father Rumao and the Hiranandanis.
The documents show that Father Rumao approached the charity commissioner in 2007 and claimed that the 21,000 sq m plot had been encroached upon and that the church had no resources to protect it any more.
He sought permission to assign the rights to someone who could develop it as a playground, hand it over to civic body and claim TDR from it. In 2007, the charity commissioner accepted the request and allowed the deal.
With Pandora’ Box wide open, the parishioners suspected foul play with their remaining 16,500 sq m and decided to get it surveyed.
“We were promised that money from Rs 20 croredealwouldbeusedtobuildanewcommunity hall and school building, but that is yet to happen.Hence,wedecidedtotakemattersinourown handandcalledforasurveytobeginwith,”added Joseph.
The parishioners unanimously decided to get the survey done and then start constructing the new buildings. Their current priest, Father Elias D’Souza, who is in favour of the plan, sought police protection to enable the survey.
But on Sunday, morning as hundreds of parishioners came together to ensure that survey went off smoothly, Jitendra Indise, a local corporator, turned up with his supporters and stalled the survey, claiming to be the owner of one of the adjacent plots.
Indise claimed that he had bought one of the plots from Hiranandanis and that he would not allow a private survey.
This upset the parishioners, most of whom wanted to go ahead with their survey anyway. However, some of the senior members decided to avoid a confrontation and instead asked or a meeting with Indise.
“Ihadboughtasmallplotofaround9,000sqft from the Hiranandanis. It isn’t church property, but somebody else’s plot,“ he said adding that his reason for stalling the survey was that the churchgoers were getting it done privately. “Ideally they should have got it done from a government surveyor after giving notice to all land owners in the vicinity,” he added.
OnSundaymoring,theparishionersleftwithoutcreatingascene.Butbeforeleavingtheytooka decision to challenge the Hiranandani deal in the highcourtandensurethattheirremaininglandis protected.
“It concerns all of us. So much can be done with a prime plot like this. We could build a brand new school and provide education of the poor. With the money from the TDR sale, the church can take up many noble issues,” said Joseph.
Attempts to contact Father Rumao proved futile. However, Niranjan Hiranandani, founder of Hiranandani Developers, claimed that it was a clean deal.
“The fact is that I paid Rs 20 crore five years ago and still haven’t claimed TDR for it. The deal was absolutely legal and done after after obtaining permission from the charity commissioner. Now some people have woken up to create trouble,” he said.
This is not the first time that Father John Rumao’s name has cropped up in a shady land deal.
Early this year, an FIR was registered against him at Santacruz police station for allegedly forging documents of a chawl owned by Our Lady of Egypt Church and selling it to private parties.