In a major victory for the Parsi community in the city, the Bombay high court recently dismissed an application seeking to commercially exploit a portion of the Kappawala Agiary (fire temple) at Tardeo.
Justice Nishita Mhatre upheld the order of the charity commissioner, which had denied permission to the Seth Shapurji Sorabji Kappawal Charitable Trust to demolish the agiary annexe building and construct a seven-storey highrise.
The community considers the Kappawala Agiary as very important as the last Zoroastrian saint, Dastur Jamshed Ervad Sohrab Kukadaru (1831-1900), was a priest in this fire temple. The fire in this agiary was consecrated in 1857 (the year of the Sepoy Mutiny) and the magnificent building was built in 1941 when the fire was shifted from Fort to Tardeo. The heritage committee declared the building a Grade II-A protected structure in 2008.
"The agiary has a sacred well and the proposed multi-storeyed building would have come up in close quarters of this sacred space,” said Anahita Desai of the World Alliance for Parsi Irani Zarthostis (WAPIZ), who along with temple trustee Behram Billimoria, spearheaded the opposition to the redevelopment plans. "The sanctity of the holy place would have been compromised. It is the duty of the agiary trustees to protect the temple, and they cannot be seen to allow it to be commercially exploited,” Desai added.
The court order caps a three-year battle to save the agiary land. In 2006, trustee Dara Nicholson sought permission from the charity commissioner to demolish the ground-plus-one-storey agiary annexe building occupied by lone tenant Rohinton Devlaliwala on the grounds that it was dilapidated. Devlaliwala himself won the redevelopment tender by offering 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). The charity commissioner rejected the application in 2008 and Nicholson moved court.
In his plea, Nicholson said the building was in a dilapidated condition and posed a danger to the lives of the tenants as well as visitors to the agiary. The court did not agree.
"The charity commissioner’s order, citing structural engineer’s report, says all that the building needs is repairs. Further, any highrise coming up in the precinct of the temple will be a violation of the heritage law,” Desai said.