Concerns are being raised over the continuing existence of 500-year-old ‘Tower of Silence’ or Dokhma at Umarwada, which is not only being used by people of Surat, but also Parsis from distant places like Bharuch, Navsari and even Bhusaval and Jalgaon in Maharashtra.
By Melvyn Reggie Thomas, TNN
This historical Dokhma, where the dead are consigned to sun and the vultures, may have withstood the vicissitudes of time, but the once-tranquil place is now being fast engulfed by the expanding city.
After acquiring 4.27 lakh square yards of Dokhma land in the past for setting up infrastructure projects such as SMIMER hospital, Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) has now decided to acquire another 31,630 square metre for construction of housing societies for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and a public garden.
The plots taken by SMC are less than 80 metre from Dokhma wells. Previously, a stream of polluted water in the creek used to be a natural barrier for anyone trying to enter the premises from the other side of the road, but now a bridge is being constructed on the creek.
Surat Parsi Panchayat (SPP) has been desperately exploring means to maintain the Parsi tradition. It had launched a vulture conservation project in 2006 by growing more than 8,000 babul trees in and around the Dokhma.
"We have given away huge portions of land owned by the SPP in the past. But this time around it is the question of sanctity of our last rites at Dokhma," trustee SPP Board Zubin Bhatporia said.
He said that if the proposed project is implemented, it will be an end to the Parsi system of performing last rites. The Dokhma will loose its sanctity.
SPP president Darayas Master told TOI, "We have been having correspondence with chief minister Narendra Modi for many years for exempting the Dokhma land from acquisition. The CM’s office had taken the issue with the urban development ministry, but nothing has been done so far."
Giving an explanation for SMC move, deputy commissioner (Planning and Development) Jivan Patel said, "Umarwada, where the Parsi Dokhma is located, falls under the TP scheme 34 of Magob and Dumbhal. As per the TP law, we have to acquire 30 per cent of the open land for the development of projects
like EWS houses and public garden."