SHERNAAZ ENGINEER's blog on the Parsi community

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Importance of being Dinshaw Mehta!

Dinshaw Mehta is in the eye of a storm. Conversely, there are those who insist that Dinshaw Mehta is ‘the storm’! He is a volley of unstoppable energy that has turned the otherwise placid Punchayet upside-down and inside-out. He has his hecklers, vocal and voluble ones, but he also has his supporters – from amongst the rank and file of the community, all the way up to the High Priests – who see him as an approachable, earnest and incredibly hard working Trustee who has, over his past two terms in office, consistently delivered, despite the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t campaign against him.

He is standing for elections again. And the din of his detractors is deafening. Are they merely a bunch of empty vessels making noise? Or is there smoke behind the ire of their fire? Either way, it’s only fair Dinshawji has his say.

Q. Is there life beyond housing at the BPP?
It’s a huge priority, but not the only one. Today we have about 900 persons on the waiting list and from amongst them about 700 are genuine and we must provide them with homes. But, apart from them, I would like our housing schemes to also include a lot more Parsis who live outside the baugs. I believe bringing them into the fold will greatly enhance community life. One in five marriages is an inter-caste one, and that isn’t good for us. Parsis must marry within the community, and living within the Baug culture encourages intermingling. Navroze Baug is the best example of the maximum number of Parsi weddings taking place within a baug. I would like to see this happen across baugs and would love to bring many more Parsis into our baugs through redevelopment, since that is now an option open to us.

However, I am totally against the sale of Parsi properties and opposed the proposal to sell the Parsi Lying-in hospital, the Marazban Sanitorium in Lonavala, and so on. Neither do we need the so-called builder lobby to step in. The Punchayet is fully capable of developing its own properties and retaining them within the community.

Q. More construction/allotment means more controversies for you?
A. Let people say what they want to. There are always disgruntled elements, although I try to help as many people as I can. It is now being alleged that only my friends get flats, in which case half the community could be called my friends since I have helped so many people! Take the case of Maneck Davar – he has paid the Punchayet well above the offer we had at the time, and this is known those making false allegations. He was given the flat with the consent of all the other Trustees, so why am I being blamed?

Q. Why are you being blamed?
A. It’s pure slander and personal victimisation, as I have fallen out with my one time friend and business partner, who is himself taking an active interest in Parsi politics. Ideologically, we fell apart when he started demanding a crematorium at the Doongerwadi. When virtually the entire community opposed it, he came back with the innocent proposal of a ‘cremate ni bungli’ at Doongarwadi, where prayers could be said for those opting for alternate methods of disposal. I was open to it, until he revealed that his intent was to get a toe-hold into Doongerwadi through the ‘cremate ni bungli’ and eventually bring a crematorium in.

I was alarmed, as this is certainly not in the interest of our community. He has very radical views about ‘acceptance’, ‘conversion’ and ‘cosmopolitan agiaries’, which I cannot subscribe to. He is now seeking to be the king-maker of the community and I am paying the price for blocking his path. In religious matters I believe we need to go by the guidance of our High Priests.

(Mr. Mehta elaborated further upon the above the above at his public meeting at Godrej Baug, and sought to clarify that the many allegations against him are baseless and motivated).

Q. Your Co-Trustees have also not found it easy to work with you?
A. That’s untrue. We may disagree on policy issues, but all decisions, especially flat allotments, are taken jointly by all of us.

Q. Another allegation is irregularities at the time of flat allotments/sale…
All payments are made by cheque to the Punchayet, although at times we do get brokers involved. Say someone comes to sell his flat, claiming he has an offer for just thirty lakhs. In reality, he may have an offer for forty. So we ask a broker to get a few more clients and bids, in order to assess the right market price. Brokers sometimes lie and ask for a couple of lakhs in cash, saying the Trustees are asking for it. When this comes to light, we blacklist the broker.

Q. What about the Doongerwadi hoardings issue?
A. In 2000 the late Siloo Kavarana came up with a suggestion to generate revenue for the Doongerwadi through hoardings. When all the Trustees agreed, in 2001 we got five contractors to bid and were offered between Rs. 600 to Rs. 850 per square foot. Tony Lewis was the highest bidder. Then Anahita Pundole went on her crusade and everything went into limbo. Meanwhile, Doongerwadi was declared a heritage precinct. We finally got back to all the original bidders, asking them to get both Heritage and BMC sanctions and revert if they were interested. This was in 2006, and only Lewis managed it. He was awarded the contract at Rs. 1200 per square foot, with a 10 per cent escalation every year. Anahita Pundole agitated again and we made it clear to Lewis that not a single tree was to be cut or we would cancel his contract. We did that, when he started cutting some trees, and that is where the matter stands.

Q. How will you get along with your co-Trustees this time?
A. I’m very comfortable with most of the candidates. I have known Nadir Modi and Noshir Dadrawalla for years. There should be no problem. I would be really happy to work with WAPIZ. Rustom Tirandaz has been a former colleague; Arnavaz Mistry is a social worker. There are many other good people.

Q. Is the acrimony getting to you?
A. At every election there is acrimony. If I show you the cuttings of the 2001 elections you’ll see it was much the same. Only those who are attacking me now were supporting me then!

Q. What else is on your agenda?
A. We have to look after our poor more effectively by bringing all the Trusts together and ensuring that piecemeal doles are consolidated into a substantial sum. We have to encourage marriages within the community and preserve our religion. And we need to increase the BPP corpus.

Q. Your family background is in politics?
A. My late father, brother and sister have all been Corporators from the same seat since 1965. We have never lost an election. Almost always, the contesting candidates have lost their deposits! There must be something good my family has done to get this sort of adulation from the area we represent. In 1981, when I decided against opting for mainstream politics, but got into Parsi politics instead, my father wondered whether it was a wise decision! But I had already made up my mind.