Parsi community: Now, all our hopes rest on the divine forces

Updated: 11 December, 2018 10:15 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

Parsi community devastated as Metro officials get SC nod to go ahead with tunnelling under the sacred fire temples in South Mumbai

The Parsi community was left in shock on Monday after the Supreme Court allowed MMRCL to continue construction work of the tunnel under the Anjuman and Wadiaji Atash Behrams. With the next hearing scheduled for January 4, the Parsis feel any hope of altering the alignment of the tunnel is as good as lost as a substantial portion of the work will be completed by then.

Based on the statement of chief petitioner Jamshed Sukhadwalla, after hearing the arguments for an hour-and-a-half, SC decided to allow MMRCL to continue tunnelling. "While the court relieved Metro of its oral direction of stopping all tunnelling work, the court wants to monitor the impact of the work for the next three weeks. Before the next hearing, Metro has to provide a detailed affidavit before it can do controlled blasting and other station work," he said.

On the day the Bombay High Court's verdict was pronounced, Sukhadwalla had said that the tunnel boring machines would reach the fire temple within 12 days, after which the sanctity of the fire temples would be lost. Now, there is a good chance that tunnelling will be completed well before January 4.

The petitioners, however, will continue the fight on other aspects of the case. Bergis Desai, another petitioner in the case said arguments about the Kalbadevi station and the tunnel boring machines will continue. "The judges have allowed MMRC to continue tunnelling. They want to see how it progresses and whether it causes any damage in the next few weeks. They will then decide on other safeguarding steps at the next hearing," he said.

The Wadiaji Atash Behram, and the Anjuman Atash Behram
The Wadiaji Atash Behram, and the Anjuman Atash Behram

'No realignment'
Desai admitted that the original plea of realigning the Metro III tunnel can no longer be achieved. "In other words, they [the Supreme Court] are not buying the argument on spiritual sanctity. But, some of the aspects of structural safety around Kalbadevi station and controlled blasting are issues that will be discussed on January 4," he said.

Commenting on the development, senior counsel from the Parsi community said the case is over once the stay has been lifted. "The Supreme Court has basically implemented the high court's order. While the case was in the high court, the legal counsel of the petitioners should have ensured that the stay order was never lifted," he said.

He added that once a case is pending in the Supreme Court, petitioners can file a review and curative petition if they have fresh evidence or if the case is about changing a law. In this case, however, they will have to wait for the petition to be disposed of before they can file a review and by then it will be too late.

Other members of the community were unable to think about the silver lining. Word of the disappointing news spread quickly through the community. Yazdi Desai, chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat chairman said everyone in the community was upset. "We are very disappointed but it is good that we put up a good fight to save the Atash Behrams," he said.


The Wadiaji Atash Behram
The Wadiaji Atash Behram

SC was our final hope'
Noshir Dadrawala, a trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat said, "To me it looks like it is a fait accompli at this point. Zerick Dastur did a great job in arguing. However, there is no scope of realignment any longer the Supreme Court was our final hope and now our hopes rest on the divine forces."

Expressing his disappointment, Khojeste Mistree, a Zoroastrian scholar, said, "The SC has more or less endorsed the decision of the high court. You can't change the tunnelling in January in case the SC has second thoughts. For all practical purposes, the case is lost," he said.

Mistree reiterated his growing concerns about the dipping water levels of the Atash Behrams, which the judges don't seem to have given much credence to . "The levels are so low, you can now see damp stone and the coins people throw in at the bottom of the well," he said, adding that this was unusual. "Normally, the water level falls at the peak of the summer in April or May. But not as early as November and December," he said.

While Metro officials were unavailable for a response, Shrihari Aney, the advocate who represented MMRCL in the high court said, "It is my impression that the court has decided that the right to religion as found by the high court is no interference. The debate that is now going on is with reference to what should be done to ensure that the structure is not damaged."

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First Published: 11 December, 2018 08:00 IST

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