Serum CEO can’t occupy Rs 750 crore sea view mansion in Mumbai

October 3, 2021

Serum CEO can't occupy Rs 750 crore sea view mansion in MumbaiMUMBAI: Six years after he successfully bid for the sprawling US consulate property at Breach Candy, India’s vaccine king, Adar Poonawalla, hasn’t been able to move into his Rs 750-crore acquisition.

Reason: The Indian government has so far refused permission for the 2015 sale of the two-acre, sea-facing mansion built by the Maharaja of Wankaner in the late 1930s.

The property was given on a 999-year lease to the US government in 1957. The US consulate operated from the Breach Candy premises called Lincoln House till about a decade ago before it was shifted to a much larger property in the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC).

Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, is believed to have already paid a substantial chunk of the Rs 750-crore winning bid. He told Mirror: “It is now for US and India to decide. I have nothing to do with it. Till they decide I am nobody in the picture. So, they have to take a call in the matter. I don’t want to comment and there is nothing I can do or say on the matter either.”

When asked if he planned to back out of the deal, he said, “No comments.” It is learnt that the agreement allowed Poonawalla to back out by August-end, 2021.

However, Gautam Saraf, MD of global property consultant Cushman & Wakefield, told Mirror that Poonawalla was still invested in the property and had not backed out. DTZ, which was the consultant for the sale of this property, later merged with Cushman & Wakefield.

In a statement to Mirror, a US consulate spokesperson said: “With respect to the US Consulate property in Mumbai known as Lincoln House, we are working with the Government of India to reach a satisfactory agreement to complete the lease transfer of the property.”

It is the defence estates department under the Union ministry of defence, which has stalled the deal since 2015, claiming the land belonged to it.

Two years ago, Adar had told this correspondent that this department had been holding on to the permissions without citing any reasons. “This is bureaucratic harassment,” the CEO & ED of Serum Institute of India and son of industrialist Cyrus Poonawalla, had then said.

Adar had met two defence ministers, Manohar Parrikar and Arun Jaitley, who both passed away, to resolve the issue. Despite their assurances, nothing moved. An email Mirror sent to the defence estates department remained unanswered.

Recently, the New York Times reported that top officials in the US government took it up with the Indian government including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo who wrote to the external affairs minister.

In 2011, the US government had set a reserve price of Rs 850 crore for the three-storied consulate building but had found few takers because of development restrictions.

In 2012, Tata Housing Development Company (THDC) had emerged as the front-runner for Lincoln House and had almost matched the reserve price of Rs 850 crore.

However, the deal did not progress further because of regulatory issues.

The property has a large piece of open land in its sea-facing backyard, which housed a tennis court and a small garden patch. It is a Grade-III heritage property.

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