Parsi community against Metro tunnels passing underneath ancient temples


June 8, 2018

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Burying their differences, traditional and liberal Parsis on Friday came together at a packed public meeting and passed a unanimous resolution against the Metro 3 underground tunnels planned to pass underneath two ancient fire temples.

Article by Nauzer Bharucha | TNN

The Wadia and Anjuman Atash Behrams, at the junction of Princess Street in south Mumbai, are two of the only eight such temples in India, which contain the highest grade of consecrated fire. Over a 1,000 Parsis gathered at the Patkar Hall on Friday evening to protest the imminent desecration of the two 19th Century Atash Behrams.

“In the over 1,000 years of the Parsis in India, the community has never asked for reservations or any special rights. This is the first time in our history that the community is demanding that its fundamental rights to protect and practice its religion should not be violated,” said solicitor Berjis Desai, one of the five petitioners, who dragged the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation to court.

“The Prime Minister has called us a “model minority”, but now we ask him to safeguard our rights,” said Desai, adding that the community will have to send a strong message to the powers-that-be and be prepared to fight it out in the courts.

Advocate Zerick Dastur, who spearheaded the legal battle in the Bombay high court, said architect Hafeez Contractor has prepared alternate designs so that the tunnels can be realigned and need not pass underneath the Atash Behrams. “Today morning, we submitted his proposals to the metro rail officials. There are cogent and concrete material to show that it can be done,” said Dastur.

“The Bombay Parsi Punchayat too has come on board and will file an affidavit in the court to support the writ petition. Parsi federations from all over the country have been sending support letters,” said Dastur.

Structural expert Jamshed Sukhadwala, who was the first to raise the red flag about the threat to the fire temples as well as dilapidated buildings in Girgaum, said earlier metro rail officials’ furnished incorrect information. Sukhadwala had filed a slew of RTI applications over the past three years to ferret out information about the alignment of the tunnels. “Today I can say their negativity has reduced,” he said.

Surat high priest Cyrus Dastoor said this crisis concerns every Parsi Zoroastrian. “Each one of us must ensure that no harm comes to the Atash Behrams,’’ he said. “We request the government to protect the sanctity of these important temples,” he said.

Two Parsi High Priests, Firoze Kotwal and Khurshed Dastoor, who last year met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, and later announced that no spiritual or structural harm will come to the Atash Behrams, have now changed their opinions. They have now said that the tunnels should not run under any portion of the two fire temples. All the five high priests are now on the same page, the gathering was informed on Friday.

On Friday, Mumbai metro rail board directors Ashwini Bhide, UPS Madan, Ajoy Mehta, AA Bhat and Rahul Asthana met the petitioners as directed by the high court to find a way out. Last month, the court had stayed drilling work under the fire temples till June 14.

The H B Wadia Atash Behram was established in 1830 while the Anjuman Atash Behram dates back to 1897.