UDVADA, PART 3: An Interview with Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor

Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, High Priest of Udvada, speaks about the Udvada land controversy case, how he and his family have been affected, and what Parsis can do to help Udvada.

The Gujarat Revenue Tribunal has issued a ‘status quo’ order in the Udvada land controversy case, temporarily suspending Nucleus Developers’ ability to develop the property. Is there still an immediate danger to Udvada?

Yes. If the Revenue Tribunal eventually rules in Nucleus’ favor, they can begin building immediately. Even if the tribunal does not rule in their favor, Nucleus Developers can still move the Gujarat High Court. The stakes are high. Nucleus could also break up the 168-acre property into smaller holdings, something that would make it much more difficult to stop development.

Right now, we have the support of the government of Gujarat, but if the government changes, this support could vanish.

What can Parsis do to help the Udvada Samast Anjuman?

Parsis need to stop listening to and spreading rumors about the case. There have been a lot of rumors and inaccurate accounts that have been floating around on the internet. For example, one such rumor is that the Udavada Samast Anjuman once owned the land in question and is now paying the price for its decision to sell it off. However, the anjuman never owned the land—a portion was owned by a separate trust call the Shree Bagh-e-Iran Trust. The Udvada Samast Anjuman has publically released several statements on the case and these are authoritative. But the spread of rumors has exacted a toll on the anjuman’s cause. In order to protect Pak Iranshah, we as a community need to show unity rather than divisiveness.

How do local Udvada residents feel about Nucleus Developers’ project?

The whole of the local Udvada population is now behind us. This was not always the case. Last Republic Day, representatives from Nucleus Properties were welcomed by panchayat officials at the flag-raising ceremony at Jhanda Chowk. I was originally barred from speaking at a gram sabha meeting scheduled for 7 February 2011. In response, I began approaching local organizations and committees, such as the machimar (fishermen) sabha, and I explained the negative impact that the project would have on Udvada’s infrastructure and fragile environment. By the time that the gram sabha meeting finally took place, by the grace of Pak Iranshah, villagers indicated their support for the Samast Anjuman and their opposition to Nucleus’ plans.

How have you been personally affected by the case?

Nucleus has accused me of wanting to stop their development so that we can bring in a Parsi buyer and make a profit on the land. They have also issued several verbal threats to me and my family as well as to Parsi supporters of the Udvada Samast Anjuman.

Fighting the case has been very taxing on my family and me, especially since I have to travel frequently to Ahmedabad and Valsad. Luckily, the anjuman has had a number of strong supporters. Behram Mehta of Aava Water has been instrumental in helping us in Ahmedabad with matters that involve the state government. Maneck and Eric Toddywalla have provided crucial local support in Udvada. Rustom Marshall has been providing his able assistance as our legal representative. Architects Jamshed Bhiwandiwalla and Pankaj Joshi have been working to provide infrastructure for saving Udvada’s unique Parsi heritage.

What is being done to protect the sanctity of Udvada for the long-term?

A special body, the Udvada Development Authority, was created in March 2011. The body has the authority to regulate development in the village. I represent the Samast Anjuman in the Development Authority, and the other members include the village sarpanch and a town planner. The village has been divided into three zones: the vicinity of Iranshah, which has been given the highest priority for regulating development; a buffer zone around this core region; and the peripheries.  All the Parsi-owned houses around Iranshah have now been graded for their heritage value. These can no longer be legally demolished without the approval of the authority.

Individual Parsi community members need to also do their part to preserve and protect Udvada. Many Parsis have property in Udvada but their houses are empty and in a state of complete disrepair. They have a responsibility to preserve these traditional houses, come what may. It is our heritage and it is a prerogative. It is not that expensive of a task.

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