My First Quarter, in the punchayet

By Viraf Mehta

viraf-5October 18, 2015 was a watershed moment in my life, being elected as the (youngest) Trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat. It’s been a little over three months since I’ve taken office and this would be my first article to you, from the other side. My work at 209 D. N. Road commenced the day I stepped into the Boardroom and there has been no turning back since then. You would be pleased to learn that in 90 days the BPP Board has held over 20 meetings commencing from 5pm onwards and most days continuing almost till mid-night. Our marathon meetings include interacting with residents of various baugs/colonies,understanding their concerns and addressing them as promptly as possible. The following should give you a perspective of how we’ve dealt with some of the major concerns of the community:-

With the consent of all concerned parties, the Stay Order of the Charity Commissioner on all matters concerning housing has been lifted. This has enabled the Board to consider allotments which have been pending for almost 3 years. A new Housing Policy is in the process of being drafted in order to ensure that the entire process is user-friendly and transparent. It has always been my desire to make the entire housing scheme available online and with the support of the Board we are on the right track towards transparency.

We spend several hours every week analyzing the various legal cases filed by and against the BPP, the same totalling to around 250 pending cases. We have taken the initiative to call upon the concerned litigants and together, understand how best we could amicably reduce these pending cases. At all times, the Board has chosen to keep a practical approach rather than let ego take precedence. The Board relies heavily upon legal advice and for this purpose incurs an annual expense running into crores on legal fees. I would encourage Parsi advocates/solicitors to volunteer their services to the Trust gratis and help reduce the burden of the Trust as much as possible.

Finance continues to be a huge concern for the new Board as well. I admit, it was overwhelming to sit as a Trustee and in the first week be shown a Balance Sheet with a debit of Rs. 4.5 Crores due to the stay order imposed on the previous Board. That did handicap us for a while and as some of you might have read even doles to the poor were delayed due to the lack of funds. You will be pleased to learn that we have made necessary arrangements to change the financial position of the BPP and our commitment to serve the poor and needy is back on track. We have fast tracked the construction work on the Godrej Baugownership building and the sale proceeds thereof to Parsis only,will enable the BPP earn over Rs. 250 Crores.

Elections for the post of Trustee have been announced and the same are scheduled to take place on April 17, 2016.
We have begun cleaning up the electoral roll and brainstorming on other ways to amend the scheme of elections for the future. The election process itself came under a lot of scrutiny last election and we are aiming to make this process as transparent as possible to clear any doubts that were cast the last time round. The Board has also reworked on the Code of Conduct, which continues to remain voluntary. I undoubtedly hope that this election is conducted in a fair manner with no candidate being maligned in the press as we unfortunately saw last election.
A lot is expected and a lot is hoped for from each Trustee and the entire Board collectively. The way I see it, the next 7 years with be a litmus test, especially in terms of the legacy we leave behind for the Trustees of 2022.
The past three months have given me a perspective of the amount of work that is required to be done on a daily basis, enough to keep us all busy at all times for the rest of our term. I now fully understand how much time, energy and dedication my father had put in for 21 years, and I could have no better example than my father to emulate. I hope to inherit the same passion and enthusiasm he has for the community and its affairs.

Udvada Utsav
“Tolerance is a great virtue and India needs it very badly” – Amartya Sen.
So do us Parsis.

At the recent Udvada Utsav, senior counsel, Mr. Darius Khambata expressed his opinion on a rather sensitive issue concerning our community. Although I was not personally present at the Utsav at the said time, I have read the public clarification issued by him subsequently thereafter, clarifying his stand that he believes in the universality of Zoroastrianism and consequently, advocates acceptance of Parsi women married outside and their navjoted Zoroastrian children to enter our fire temples/atash behrams. While I certainly do not share the same view as him, and personally am of the opinion that the Udvada Utsav was not the right platform to voice such an opinion, I respect Mr. Khambata’s views and sentiments and his level of research and in depth reading of the history of our religion. Let’s face it, the recent opening of the crematorium at Worli, statistical rise in marriages outside the faith, our decline in numbers, Parsi women married outside the faith doing the navjote of their children are some of the many complex issues that concern our community today and each one of us is entitled to an opinion. I for one am an orthodox at heart. The reactions that Mr. Khambata’s speech drew gives a sense of the pulse of the community and that while there may be a small faction that advocates ‘acceptance’ of outsiders into the faith, there’s a much larger faction that still wants to protect and preserve our age old customs, traditions and beliefs. I commend the High Priests of our community for clarifying their stand on this subject in this press a few weeks ago. The media has had a field day pitting the orthodox against the radicals. And many a time in the past, matters of conversion and acceptance into the religion have come to the fore but with time, inevitably died its natural death. My only concern is that amidst the radical attempts every now and then being made to save our religion, I hope we don’t end up losing the very essence of our ‘parsipanu’.