Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Free flats for Parsis on the anvil

By Nauzer Bharucha, / TNN

In a city where a decent two-BHK apartment within 30 km of the business district is the exclusive domain of crorepatis, the Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP) will sell almost 75 flats in Panthaky Baug, Andheri (East), to low-income community members at a rock-bottom rate of Rs 2,400 a square foot.

This, in an area where property prices are pegged at more than Rs 10,000 a sq ft. Each of these flats will cost between Rs 17.86 lakh and Rs 20.52 lakh for a built-up area, varying from 732 sq ft to 760 sq ft.

Proceeds from the sale of these apartments and another upcoming high-end tower at Nepean Sea Road will go into the construction of 300 additional flats at Panthaky Baug, which will be allotted to community members free of cost, based on the punchayat’s merit-rating system. "The court has directed us to construct these flats within the next two years,” said BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta.

In a city of more than 15 million people, the Zoroastrians comprise barely 45,000. The BPP, last week, invited applications from Parsi-Irani Zoroastrians for these flats after the charity commissioner recently dismissed a case filed by some community members, who wanted to prohibit the punchayat from selling flats on ownership basis.

The over-350-year-old BPP, which looks after the welfare of the community and controls about 5,000 flats in Mumbai, has a waiting list of almost 1,000 people for housing. Usually, priority is given to homeless people or married couples, who do not have a proper accommodation. In the past, there have been allegations against the BPP of not properly implementing the merit-rating system.

Recently, the Bombay high court appointed former high court judge B N Srikrishna to decide the allotment of 104 flats by the then trustees of the punchayat. An organisation, Alert Zoroastrian Association (AZA), has been opposing the BPP’s move to sell flats to rich Parsis and ignoring the needs of the poor within the community. But countering this charge, the punchayat says its cross-subsidy scheme is the only way it can raise money to build more houses for the lower-income Zoroastrians.

A 16-storey residential tower with a swimming pool that the BPP is constructing at Godrej Baug on Nepean Sea Road is expected to fetch the trust Rs 80 crore, which will be ploughed back into building the 300 flats at Andheri. However, this high-end tower is already creating rumblings within a section of the community, mainly because it is coming up in close vicinity of Dakhmas or the Towers of Silence.

"We have been objecting to this skyscraper because it is close to the Dakhmas, but the punchayat has not responded to our concerns,” said Adi Doctor, editor of the community newsletter, the Parsee Voice. The AZA too has questioned if a charitable trust should waste its resources constructing such a plush tower for rich Parsis.

Mehta, however, said the skyscraper is being built several hundred metres from the nearest Dakhma. "We have planned to set up a screen, which will block the view of the Dakhmas,” he said.