Members of Parsi community fear that the sanctity and ambience of the Kappawala agiary in Tardeo may soon be lost. Reason: An age-old structure in its compound that is the house to the priest of the agiary, four tenants and a lessee may be soon converted into a multi storey building.
“According to our high priests, agiary lands are not meant for housing nor can they be used by the community for generating funds,” said Anahita Desai of the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ), a body formed with an aim to protect and preserve the identity and ethnicity of Parsis. WAPIZ has also spearheaded a signature campaign as a protest against the redevelopment of the annexe and has collected more than 400 signatures.
“The ex-trustees of the agiary allowed building one level Kappawala annexe to house the priest when the agiary was built in 1941. Later in 1963 they further allowed one of the community members to construct a first floor, which was given on land lease to the lessee. All this happened due to the builder trustee nexus that time and nobody ever protested but now we would not allow any further redevelopment,” added Desai.
According to Desai, the lessee, Rohinton Devlaliwalla was supposed to maintain the premises time to time but he has failed to do so and now the structure is in a dilapidated condition.
“The agiary and the annexe are two separate structures. It would be better and safer to redevelop the annexe as soon as possible since it is really in a bad shape,” said Devlaliwalla.
The religious place serves the highly concentrated Parsi population in Tardeo, Grant Road and nearby areas in south Mumbai. “There are already too many high rises in the area. A new building inside the compound would affect the entire aura of the fire temple,” said Mehernosh Zaveri (30), a resident of the Sir Ratan Tata Parsi colony, which is stones throw away from the agiary.
It all began in April when Dara Nicholson, the Chairman of the agiary filed an application to the charity commissioner’s office stating that the annexe was in a dilapidated condition and needs to be brought down. He further mentioned that only repairs would not improve the worse condition of the building.
Since Nicholson carried out all the procedures unilaterally without taking the other trustees in confidence, four out of the eight trustees resigned in March. Ironically the trustees of the Bombay Parsee Punchayet (BPP) had also put up their resignation a few months ago following a dispute over the flat allotment in the Baugs (Parsi colonies) highlighting tiffs among Parsees due to property related issues.
“There were differences among the trustees when I suggested redevelopment of the structure. I felt that the structure was really weak and decided to approach the charity commissioner as soon as possible,” said Nicholson.
One of the trustees of the agiary then decided to protest and filed an objection against Nicholson’s application. The Charity Commissioner has now ordered a fresh notice to be put in newspapers inviting applications for redevelopment while the objection to the application still stands. The trustee refused to comment since the matter is subjudice.
Meanwhile, WAPIZ got a structural engineer, Nitin Doshi of Doshi and Co on Friday to survey the building. “The building can be easily repaired and does not need to be redeveloped,” said Doshi after surveying the building.
According to Nicholson, considering the financial crisis of the trust, it was logical to use the extra FSI and convert the one storey annexe into a five-storey building and sell out the flats after accommodating the tenants.
However, residents are willing to initiate a fund raising drive in the community and collect money to repair the building. Sighting the example of Lalbaug agiary – the portico of which was completely broken down to erect a 25 storey tower bang opposite the agiary, H Katgara (64), a resident of the nearby Wadia Street said, “We cannot allow any individual to take advantage and ruin the agairy land. We agree that the annexe is old and needs repair. We are ready to raise the money for it.” Katgara has been visiting the agiary for the past 42 years.
Meanwhile the residents are positive of tremendous support from the community. “Just like huge number of Parsees gathered at the Bandra Hill Road for the Tata Parsi agiary, I am sure we will get similar support,” said Desai.