Bombay HC Dismisses Osho Int’l Foundation’s Challenge To JCC Denying It Permission To Sell Koregaon Plot

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Reported in The Times of India by Swati Deshpande and in The Indian Express by Manoj Dattatrye More on April 9, 2024

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Bombay High Court dismissed Osho International Foundation’s petition to sell Koregaon Park land for ₹107 crore, upholding Joint Charity Commissioner’s decision. The court emphasized the need for a special audit due to financial troubles and diversion of funds.

MUMBAI: Bombay high court on Monday dismissed a petition filed by Osho International Foundation and upheld, as well reasoned and legally valid, a Dec 2023 order of a joint charity commissioner denying the Trust permission to sell a part of their Koregaon park land for ₹107 crore.

The Foundation had in 2020 sought sanction for alienation of its Koregaon Park plot in Pune , in favour of one Rajivnayan Rahulkumar Bajaj and Rishab Family Trust through Rajivnayan Rahulkumar Bajaj, at the cost of Rs. 107 crore.

The HC bench of Justices Girish Kulkarni and F P Pooniwalla said the Joint Charity Commissioner has come to a conclusion that the petitioner had not made out a genuine and compelling necessity to alienate its valuable property situated at a prime location at Pune and thus would require no interference.

The Foundation had cited the Covid-19 pandemic and Ukrainian war as reasons too, along with financial crunch, but the JCC found it unacceptable and observed there was no attempt to seek bank loans or donations from its large number of wealthy disciples. The JCC observed that “trustees had diverted funds to several private Ltd companies to show losses incurred” by the Foundation and directed that a special audit be conducted of the OIF for 2005 to 2023 by a team of two special auditors, the HC noted in its judgment
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The petition by the Foundation through its trustee Mukesh Sarda said after the refusal Rs 50 crore received by it as earnest money from the Bajaj and Rishab Family was refunded on Dec 15, 2023.

The Foundation challenged the Jt CC’s power to order such an audit. The HC however said the Section 33 of the Maharashtra Public Trusts Act makes it clear that the Charity Commissioner wields an authority and control on the accounts of a public charitable trust, including to order a special audit whenever a special audit is necessary.

Since the Act confers powers on the CC, he is bound to exercise it when needed, said the HC rejecting the Foundation’s submission that the CC had no power to order a special audit in the case.

In 2008 for better administration one Abhilasha Foundation was amalgamated with Osho International Foundation and got within its fold a 2.4 acre plot with a bungalow at Koregaon Park.

In April 2020 to Sept 2020 the Foundation said it earned Rs. 28 lakh but expenses were over Rs. 3 crore and to meet the financial troubles decided to sell the property and placed ads in the newspaper before entering in an MOU with RR Bajaj on Dec 8, 2020.

Osho’s disciples opposed the proposed sale and sent emails to the office of the Charity Commissioner and 26 were joined as parties in the proceedings.

One disciple called Swami Premgeet or Yogesh Thakkar filed three replies contending that he Foundation was ‘habitual’ in seeking to alienate the trust properties and proposed sale was valued ‘very low’.

A Public Trust can sell its property if a compelling necessity case is made out. In this case the Jt CC set out to see if a genuine case was made out by the Foundation to sell the 2.4 acre plot at Koregaon Park with the bungalow and whether the price was right. He ordered a special audit and observed that “ostensible cash crunch was being portrayed, to sell the valuable trust property.”

Justices Kulkarni and Pooniwalla in the 50-page reasoned judgment said, “We may also observe that the raison d’etre to order such special audit itself was borne out by the material on record of the proceedings before the CC when a reference is made to large amount of documentary as well as oral evidence, which formed part of the proceedings, for the JCC to get apprehensive, disturbed and quite alarmed, so as to form an opinion of a special audit being required to be ordered. Moreover, such material had formed part of the enquiry in the proceedings of which the petitioner had sufficient notice as a specific plea was raised by the objectors, demanding a forensic audit, as there were substantive allegations of large scale irregularities being resorted by the trustees on defalcation of the trust properties and funds.”

The HC said the JCC’s order and observations “are to the effect that the contentions of depletion of the corpus of the funds of the petitioner trust was not supported by the audit reports.’’

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Court document (PDF)

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Bombay HC dismisses plea on sale of prime Osho trust land in Pune, upholds joint charity commissioner’s order

The Osho International Foundation had challenged the joint charity commissioner’s order denying it permission to sell ashram land at Pune’s Koregaon Park for Rs 107 crore.

The Bombay High Court on Monday dismissed a petition of the Osho International Foundation (OIF), a public trust, challenging the joint charity commissioner’s order denying permission to sell ashram land at Pune’s Koregaon Park for Rs 107 crore. The joint charity commissioner had rejected the OIF’s petition in December 2023, following which the trust had appealed in the high court.

Upholding the joint charity commissioner’s order, a division bench of the Bombay High Court said the OIF has not made a “genuine and compelling case” to sell its prime land in the Koregaon Park area.

The high court directed the OIF to refund the earnest amount of Rs 50 crore offered by Rajivnayan Rahulkumar Bajaj and Rishab Family Trust without interest. The OIF told the court that it had returned the amount.

A ‘rebel’ faction within the OIF has been opposing the sale of ashram land.

The high court also upheld the joint charity commissioner’s order directing a special audit of the OIF, which currently runs the Osho ashram. “The special audit of the Osho International Foundation shall be conducted for the period from 2005 to 2023 by a team of two special auditors to be appointed by Assistant Charity Commissioner, Greater Mumbai Region, within one month from the date of the order,” the court said.

The high court order said the trustees, manager and other people looking into the accounts of the trust shall make available all the records and books of accounts, receipt books, vouchers, ledgers etc during the said period to the special auditors and cooperate with them in all respects.

The OIF had argued that it wanted to sell part of the ashram’s Koregaon Park land as its finances had depleted in or around the period during the Covid-19 pandemic. “The regular activities of the petitioner were adversely affected. A situation prevailed that it was not possible to immediately restart the meditation activities in the near future. This severely affected the cash flow…resulting into an inability of the petitioner to meet its financial obligations for maintaining the premises and the properties. Considering such financial situation we desired to alienate the said property,” OIF said.

Hailing the high court order, Swami Chaitanya Keerti, who leads the Osho ‘rebel group’ said, “Osho lovers all over the world are delighted at the high court order. First, we won the battle before the joint commissioner’s office and now the Bombay High Court. We have been highlighting that the OIF has mismanaged the trust activities and more investigation by competent auditors was needed. The high court has upheld our demand.” “Our ashram should not become a club for only a few people as it is now. It should have inclusivity for all Osho lovers from all around the world – to meditate and celebrate as it was earlier,” he added.

Amrit Sadhana, a spokesperson for the Osho International Meditation Resort, said they are studying the high court order.

indianexpress.com

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