Investigating officer C B Tatkare said Vidya Baranwal, associated with Pallonji’s legal department, had lodged a complaint with them. Following that, Bishop Baiju Gavit (71), advocate Rajnikant Salvi (67) and his brother, Shashikant Salvi, were arrested.
According to the police, in 1953, the defence gave the land on Hazarimal Somani Marg near CST to The Bombay Diocesan Trust Association on a 99-year lease for Re 1 a year. “No one can sell or buy such properties,” said Tatkare. The Government of India leased out several properties in Panvel, Panchgani, Pune, Kolhapur and Raigad to the association for its educational and cultural activities. “The accused approached the complainant company and said the defence had allowed them to redevelop the 4,266-sq-yard land, which also houses the heritage structure. They also said they would bring all the necessary permission from defence and the charity commissioner. The accused claimed to have sent all the documents to the defence ministry,” said the police.
However, investigations revealed that no letter was sent to the ministry, but by then, the accused had already collected Rs 5.5 crore from the company. The builder had plans to redevelop a 33-storey building on the premises. Members of the Church of North India (CNI), the largest group of Protestant Churches in India, initially shied away from commenting.
CNI bishop for Mumbai Prakash Patole was out of station and not available for comment. But the secretary of the Maharashtra Council of Churches (a Protestant group), Rev Victor Gollapally, said it was an unfortunate incident. “Church institutions are to be used for ecclesiastical, social, educational and health purposes and not to be sold,” he said.
Cops said when the developer did not get any satisfactory document/reply, they approached the Bhoiwada police and lodged a complaint. “Two bank accounts belonging to the accused have been frozen. It contained Rs 1.5,” said the officer.
Incidentally, another group in the association had approached another builder to sell the same property.