A delegation of Parsis led by former south Mumbai Congress MP Milind Deora on Friday met senior officials of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) to express concern about the rail tunnel affecting the sanctity of the community’s ancient fire temples and wells in south Mumbai.
Article by Nauzer K. Bharucha | TNN
“We have to take their religious sentiments into account. It’s a matter of faith for them,” Deora told MMRC managing director Ashwini Bhide. After the meeting Deora told TOI that MMRC has agreed to set up an informal mechanism to find out a “technical solution”.
“The Congress party will represent the concerns of the community and take up the issue at a political level.”If all else fails, we will take it up at the highest level of Congress party,” he said. “They are a law-abiding people. Just because they are small in numbers does not mean that a project is rushed through,” Deora added.
Former Bombay Parsi Punchayat chairman Dinshaw Mehta told MMRC officials that a large section of the community wanted the metro tunnel out of the premises of the 187-year-old Wadia Atash Behram (fire temple) at the Princess Road junction in south Mumbai. “The community is worried and their sentiments hurt. The tunnel will desecrate one of our holiest fire temples,” he said. The tunnel will intrude 3.5 metres inside the Atash Behram complex and barely 22 feet away from the sanctum sanctorum.
Bhide of MMRC said it would not be feasible to change the alignment of the tunnel, but assured strict protocol would be followed to ensure the fire temple structure is not affected. However, the delegation vociferously opposed the tunnel alignment. Pervin Mistry said the Wadia and Anjuman Atash Behrams are two of the most revered Fire temples for Parsis. “There are only eight such Atash Behrams in India. Would anyone dare to build a tunnel under the Vatican or Tirupati,” she told Bhide.
Early this month, two Parsi High Priests, Khurshed Dastur and Firoz Kotwal, said they would not oppose the tunnel and declared they were “satisfied” with the assurances given by MMRC officials in front of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. But their “clean chit” led to a major backlash with the laity accusing the two high priests of “backstabbing” the community. On Thursday, an online petition containing 11,000 signatures, protesting against the tunnel alignment was sent to the prime minister’s office.
Meanwhile, Girgaum residents, who also attended the meeting, expressed fears that their old buildings may collapse when tunneling and excavation work commences on their road. MMRC will demolish 19 buildings on this road and rehabilitate the residents. However, another 85 buildings, not lined up for demolition, have been declared to be in “severe” condition. These buildings fall under the protection zone of the metro tunnel. MMRC officials explained they will closely monitor these buildings and take remedial measures in case they are disturbed during tunneling work.