In our effort to highlight and introduce the various candidates in the elections for the Trusteeship of the Bombay Parsi Panchayet, we wrote to Xerxes V. Dastur and asked him some questions via email.
Here are Xerxes’ responses. We thank him for taking the time to answer these in detail.
The Bombay Parsi Punchayet has suffered from this. From the outset, I made it clear that I am not allied with any group or person. I am an independent candidate who wants to bring professionalism, and expertise in management and finance to the operations. I plan to use my years of experience in managing teams and building institutions – as well as my work with trusts around the country – to the board.
Q. We hear of many ‘ghotala’ in which present and soon retiring trustees are involved. Whats your take on that and will you encourage inquiry into those matters? Some other candidates may be coming in to hush up past misdeeds by the above trustees. How do you think you’ll tackle that.
If there is any illegality, we need to ensure we get to the root of it and apportion the blame. I would push for a thorough audit of finances and operations to get to the bottom of the problem. The trust is suffering from a severe lack of credibility because of these allegations and politicking. We need to restore the trust’s credibility urgently.
Q. The functioning of the Trust, the functioning of its employees and their attitude leave much to be desired. Do you have any strategy in place to rid them of their lethargy, superiority and basic lack of empathy in daily activities of the Trust.
Professionalism is the key. We’ve had ineffective trustees who are uninterested in the community for far too long. We need younger minds who will take a professional approach to its running. This would span better financial management, operations and staff management. At this point, the community’s alienation fr0m the trust due to the factors you have mentioned is alarming.
Q. Your credentials are without fault. However, probem solving skills go only so far when youre on a committee with people who are foremost pushing personal agendas. What steps will you personally take to ensure a congenial Trustee group.
First of all, there is great disconnect between the trustees and the community. Because of the community’s detachment, there is little pressure on trustees to deliver. As a community, we need to think about the people we have been electing. Have they lived up to their promises? First, we need to elect new people dedicated to the community and who have the professional expertise the trust so badly needs. As a trustee, I would also ensure constant dialogue with the community and encourage Parsis to pressure the board on issues that matter. This would force the board to act. Building concensus is a must for all organisations and I will strive to ensure that we as a board work together for the great good of our community .
Q. The housing of Zoroastrians in the Punchayet houses is an arbitrary process in itself and also one where someone at every level is looking to make money, more or less depending on how well you know the important people. It is a serious issue because young couples starting out in life are bearing the brunt of this corruption and prejudice. Have you thought of how the flat allocation system may be modified?
I agree. The impact on young couple is also partly why our numbers are decreasing. I have earlier detailed plans to use technology to make completely transparent not just the house allocation process, but every tender awarded for any work. This would be done through a portal where anyone can view the housing available, who it is being allotted to and on what parameters, track various schemes, and even register complaints and track the progress on them. Housing is a critical matter for us and it needs to be set right.
Q. What are your plans on involving the community, the youth in the implementation of betterment schemes? What do you think is required to make us more responsible, proud of ourselves and accountable to the community as youth and not just focus on dance parties and games and fun social events?
This is important. One of the most important thrusts of my campaign has been reaching out to the youth, who are even more disconnected from the community’s affairs than the elders. Their views are not even being sought, leave alone incorporated in the trust’s working. They’ve been abandoned and left to fend for themselves – from academics to encouragement in entrepreneurial ventures. The portal I’ve mentioned would draw some of them in, but I would also have regular meetings with youth from various baugs to understand their thoughts and their ideas. These I would bring to the board. I would also involve them in the trust’s operations through, for instance, volunteering opportunities. We need our youth to feel pride in our community and involve them more.
Q. How can the working of the Punchayet become more transparent. We only hear of their deeds when a negative incident occurs or a litigation is embarked upon.
We need to communicate more. I have already described how technology can help. The world over, trusts such as ours are becoming more transparent, which in turn is raising confidence levels in them and improving their functioning. The Punchayet, however, has gone the other way. First, close the accounts – this has not happened for a long time. Second, why should the community not have access to them? I would make the accounts completely accessible to the community. I would push for a thorough audit of accounts and operations and make the results public. Most importantly, I would be in constant dialogue with the community to reassure them that the trust is working for their benefit.
Q. Will it be part of your agenda to put an end to frivolous, ego driven litigation, police complaints, etc.
Such things take attention away from the issues at hand and drain away time effort that could have been used for the community’s benefit. I certainly would work to end such litigation and complaints by means such as arbitration and counselling.
Q. The Punchayet needs a change of image. How can that happen?
If we can manage all that I have detailed above and below the Punchayet’s image would transform. But, I can’t stress enough that this lies in the hands of the voters. If you vote for the same people, there is no hope for change. We need fresh minds and true intentions on the Punchayet board.
YOUR PLAN OF ACTION
Q. Have you considered preparing a database of the elderly of the community? A meticulous census of our aging members.
Yes. But I would go a step beyond and look at the community as a whole. We need to know exactly how many seniors we have, where they are and what they need. This would help us plan medical assistance, earmark funds for their care, understand the other kind of support that they need, the need and viability of old-age homes, etc.
Q. The idea for medical aid for the old is brilliant. How have you considered tackling the important matter of handling old people at such times. There are many who have no families or support and suffer alone. A human support system is as essential as the financial support system.
I have from the beginning pointed out that medical assistance is only part of the problem. Many of our seniors live alone and have absolutely no one to care for them. That’s why, apart from the community-wide medical scheme that I am pushing, I have said we also need old-age homes that provide our seniors with care and company. These old-age homes can be funded partly through donations and partly by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet.
Q. Do you really think reservation is the best solution for motivating our youth? Have you considered some programmes to instill in our youth the need and desire to succeed and achieve.
I have advocated reservations – especially in Parsi-funded institutions – alongside vigorous career and academic counselling. I feel that the potential of our youth is not being realised because they are not opting for higher qualifications. They are often held back by lack of seats or by their families. Why should we be satisfied only with bank or airline jobs? There is a need for more Parsi engineers, doctors, scientists, etc. Youth need to be encouraged to take such risks, and we can help by providing more scholarships and asking for dedicated seats.
Q. Can you elaborate on your idea of a corpus by residents?
Residents in Parsi Baugs have to also understand that the costs of maintenance are rising fast. The BPP will also find it difficult going forward. Residents must start setting aside maintenance corpus themselves so that they can do some maintenance and they can also contribute to larger repairs. Slowly building a corpus over the years will ensure that no large burden is felt at the time of contributing for major repairs.
Professional Profile of Xerxes V. Dastur in PDF Format.