Large-scale encroachments on properties belonging to Parsi trusts across the country led to suggestions during a two-day meet over the weekend that the community should urge the Centre to set up a Wakf Board-like body to protect such properties. The Muslim Wakf Board, set up through central legislation, controls properties belonging to that community.
Till a few decades ago, Parsi trusts were some of the biggest landowners in Mumbai and across the country. But large-scale encroachment due to a dwindling population and negligence has made them big losers over time. In Mumbai, for instance, a huge chunk of land in the western suburbs, which once belonged to a Parsi trust, was encroached upon by a security guard hired by the trust to protect the prime real estate. The guard later went on to become a big developer, setting up a sprawling township.
The community’s properties and estates are spread all over India and are controlled by local Parsi anjumans, several of which are now defunct because there are no Parsis left in those areas. This was one of the crucial issues discussed at the two-day meet of the Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI).
The idea for a Wakf Board-like body was first mooted at the meeting by former IAS officer and anjuman representative from Indore, Bomi Hirjee, who called for a mechanism to safeguard the community’s properties.
Chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP) and president of the FPZAI Dinshaw Mehta said, if feasible, central legislation to set up such a board could help the federation safeguard properties.
Mehta said places like Igatpuri, Bhavnagar and Mussoorie, which once had a sprinkling of Parsi families, have none today. "Nobody has any idea how much land the community has lost to encroachments,” he said.
Representatives of anjumans from almost 50 villages, towns and cities across the country deliberated on ways to safeguard land from encroachment. Most of these lands are located in villages in Gujarat, where the Parsis had first settled after arriving from Iran over 1,300 years ago. A large portion of these lands are part of the Towers of Silence complexes (the place where the community’s dead are placed in dakhmas or open wells) and aramgahs (burial grounds). However, since the population in these villages decreased alarmingly over time (some have barely 20 to 25 Parsis left), the lands were slowly encroached upon. BPP trustee Jimmy Mistry suggested that a survey be conducted-village by village and state by state-to collate and videograph information on Parsi trust properties.
The cynosure of all eyes at the meeting was 82-year-old Sohrab Katpitia, a Surat resident, who has made it his life’s mission to protect Parsi trust lands. He has travelled all across the country in the last two decades to prevent such lands from being encroached upon. "I have managed to get a slew of court orders against these encroachments,” he said. The octogenarian submitted a detailed report to the federation about the status of Parsi lands in places such as Amroli near Surat, Allahabad, Amritsar, Abu, Bhusawal, Bhopal, Dharwar, Dhulia, Jamnagar, Nanded, Junagadh and Rajkot.
Meherwan Irani, president of the Irani Zoroastrian Anjuman, later narrated how legal heavyweights like Temton Andhyarujina and Ryan Karanjwala helped him fight a case of encroachment near Valsad in the Supreme Court free of cost. "I received threats to my life, but I was not worried,” he said.
Member of the National Minorities Commission, Mehroo Bengalee, said the Gujarat government was more forthcoming in solving such cases. "However, things are difficult here in Maharashtra,” she said.