Below is an update on the Udvada Land Issue by Dinyar Patel. Dinyar is a doctoral student at Harvard University. He is currently in India doing research for his thesis
I know that there has been some confusion over what has been happening in Udvada with regard to planned development near the Atash Behram. I’ve spoken to both Dasturji Peshotan Mirza and Rustom Marshall, the lawyer in this case, and the following is what they have told me.
There is a 200 acre property close to the Atash Behram which is currently agricultural. A part of the property was once owned by Parsis, then sold off, and finally came under the ownership of Lalu Jogi (apparently a local smuggler) along with the rest of the land in question, and has now been sold to a developer consortium (which
apparently includes a few Parsis). The developers had announced plans to construct an industrial estate on this property. After these plans became public and the Parsi community raised objections, they announced new plans to sell off plots for the construction of housing blocks.
This runs afoul of the law since an agricultural plot of land has been sold to non-agriculturalists — i.e., the developers — for non-agricultural purposes. Government permission is required for this transaction. The deputy collector of Valsad district did grant permission to the developer. The developers then offered to negotiate
with the Udvada anjuman over land use but the anjuman rejected this offer, pointing out that the permission granted by the deputy collector was not valid in the first place. Led by Rustom Marshall, they took this case to the Gujarat Revenue Tribunal, which has issued a “status quo” or “stay” order against the developers, which prohibits the developers from any further development or construction activity for the time being. The case is still at the Revenue Tribunal (I was unable to find any documents on the Tribunal’s website, http://www.revenuetribunal.gujarat.gov.in/) and the developers have not as yet taken this to the Gujarat High Court.
The obvious, primary concern for us in this case is of course the sanctity of the Atash Behram. Dasturji Mirza tells me that the industrial estate plans originally called for a plastics factory, which would require a major source of water that would both deplete and pollute Udvada’s water tables and impact wells used in the village and Atash Behram. Although a “stay” order has been issued, Dasturji Mirza mentioned that some trees on the property have already been cut down in preparation for construction.
There is a related environmental concern. Udvada suffers from major coastal erosion and the land in question apparently abuts the sea and is partially submerged during the high tide. Development here could be disastrous for village and whatever is built on these 200 acres.
At the moment, there seems to be two things we as the Zoroastrian community can do:
1) Support and publicize this case. I spoke to Rustom Marshall this morning and he agrees that some coverage in the media would help. I have already spoken to an editor at Outlook and a reporter from the Economic Times/Times of India — they seem interested in the story and hopefully they will pursue it. But these are only two possible leads. It would be great if others could contact media both here in India and in North America. This is, after all, the holiest Zoroastrian temple in the world. There are also environmental issues at stake which would affect more than just the Parsi community.
2) Raise funds to help purchase the plot in question. Rustom Marshall says that this is the simplest way to solve the situation, albeit also the most difficult. The 200 acre plot is worth about Rs. 40 crores in value, which is around US$9 million. Not a low sum, of course.
Over the last few months I’ve read a lot about the Udvada land controversy online that has turned out to be inaccurate and speculative. I’ll try my own best to find out more information on this issue and I will let you know if anything I have stated here turns out to be not correct. In the mean time, let us all do our best to find out more about this case and ways that we can help.
Ph.D. Candidate, Modern South Asia
Department of History
+1 (650) 796-2486
Editors Note: All comments on this issue need to be pertinent to the issue at hand. Any comments that denigrate into personal attacks and name calling shall not be published.