Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Bid to exploit Kappawala agiary land thwarted

An attempt to commercially exploit a portion of Tardeo’s Kappawala agiary (fire temple) land by one of the trustees has been scuttled after the charity commissioner rejected an application seeking permission to conduct the redevelopment.

The fire in this agiary was consecrated way back in 1857 (the year of the Mutiny), but the imposing building was constructed only in 1941 when the fire was shifted from Fort to Tardeo. What is especially significant for many Parsis is that the last Zoroastrian saint, Dastur Jamshed Ervad Sohrab Kukadaru (1831-1900), was a priest in this agiary.

The charity commissioner’s order on last Tuesday comes as a major respite for a miniscule community, which has been fighting to prevent builders and trustees from usurping large fire temple lands in the city to set up residential buildings.

Recently, a group of Parsis lost a legal battle in the Supreme Court, trying to prevent a builder from setting up a 22-storey residential tower, adjoining the Lalbaug agiary entrance. The building is now ready and occupied.

“The Kappawala order is a victory for the community. The trustee’s lawyer tried to argue that a precedent had already been set in the Lalbaug agiary case but the charity commissioner did not buy this argument,” said Anahita Desai of World Alliance for Parsi Irani Zarthostis, which fought the case along with another temple trustee, Behram Billimoria.

Billimoria had strongly opposed his co-trustee Dara Nicholson, who wanted to redevelop a ground-plus-one-storey structure, next to the agiary. “Agiary lands are sacred. Any form of development will spoil the ambience,” said Desai.

Last year, Nicholson, the octogenarian trustee of Kappawala agiary, had filed an application before the charity commissioner, seeking permission to demolish the ground-plus-one storey structure on grounds that it was dilapidated – a claim that was subsequently challenged as false by Billimoria and Wapiz.

The building is occupied by a lone tenant, Rohinton Devlaliwala. Interestingly, the redevelopment proposal was floated by Devlaliwala himself and when Nicholson invited tenders for the project, Devlaliwala won the bid and his offer was accepted by the trustee.

“There is compelling necessity for the trust to demolish the existing annexe building, which is currently in a seriously dilapidated condition. The trust does not have adequate funds, time and expertise to carry out redevelopment at its own cost,” Nicholson said in his application.

Devlaliwalla had offered to give Rs 60 lakh and a 800 sq-ft flat to the trust. The trust, in return, was to give him development rights of about 5,000 sq ft of the unutilised Floor Space Index (FSI).

Billimoria, however, contended that Nicholson on his own and without consulting his co-trustees “did several acts in collusion with the alleged successful bidder (Devlaliwala)”. “Without any decision or resolution passed by the trust, the bid for the alleged redevelopment was invited on behalf of the trust. Since the bids were invited without proper authority or application for sanction for alienation of trust property on the basis of the said unauthorised act, it (application) should be dismissed,” said Billimoria.

Raising objections, the dissenting trustee alleged a collusion between Nicholson and Devlaliwala and said the successful bidder was being given full rein to exploit the FSI without any restriction or check by the trustee.

“The agreement is silent on how to ensure that the sanctity of the fire temple is maintained. In fact, the agreement is drafted with the sole aim to help the developer instead of putting stringent conditions in favour of the trust,” said Billimoria.