WHILE corporators across party lines are confident of pushing through their demand for the ouster of heritage conservationist Tasneem Mehta from the board of trustees that oversees the Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum in Byculla, it has emerged now that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will be unable to immediately dissolve the board of trustees without initiating arbitration proceedings.
The tripartite agreement signed in 2003 by the BMC (which owns the museum), the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation (the largest sponsor for the museum’s restoration) says none of the three parties may unilaterally terminate the agreement. The agreement is valid for a period of 15 years from the completion of the restoration.
As the restoration was completed in 2007 and the museum opened for public only in 2008, the agreement is valid till February 2023.
“This agreement shall not be unilaterally terminated by either party and if there are any disputes and differences as regards interpretation of any of its terms, the same shall be referred to joint mediation of the Municipal Commissioner and Tasneem Mehta and the sponsor, and if the same remains unresolved, the same may be referred to Arbitration under the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996,” reads the tri-party agreement.
“However, in the meantime, the restoration and revitalistion to be carried out inside or outside the Museum premises shall not be stopped pending the mediation or hearing of Arbitration proceedings and parties shall act according to the final published award of the Arbitrator/s,” it adds.
At a meeting of the BMC’s various group leaders last week, the corporators demanded that the civic body takes over control of the trust’s operations. Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta said the civic body would review the agreement first.
Civic officials said they may be able to introduce some checks and balances in auditing and in the revenue-sharing model of the trust. “But, as per the agreement, it doesn’t seem possible to remove Tasneem Mehta or to make any drastic changes in the trust’s functioning,” said a civic official.
The corporators’ demand for her ouster is based on allegations that the BMC-owned museum has turned into an institution for the elite with little or no access for common citizens, a complaint that gained ground especially after an aborted effort to host the finale of a fashion week in the museum premises last year.
Tasneem Mehta, managing trustee of the trust, said the BMC can’t terminate the agreement legally. “All the allegations are untrue and concocted to sabotage the expansion plan of the museum. The then mayor and municipal commissioner had asked us to raise the funds. The fashion show was one of the fund raising exercises. If they have any issues or complaints, they can come and talk to me about it. I am ready to work with everybody,” said Mehta.