STRUCTURAL ENGINEER and former professor at VJTI College Jamshed Sukhadwalla (72) has been associated with a citizens’ resistance to the construction of an underground Metro in parts of south Mumbai since March 2015. He has filed over 70 RTI applications, leading to an online campaign to stop tunnelling work under the Atash Behrams, Parsi places of worship. The Supreme Court will hear his petition next on January 4, but Sukhadwalla says a sense of betrayal persists within the community.
“We look at 2019 in a bleak way. Our community has done a lot for the nation and especially for Mumbai. What we wanted was a small change in the alignment,” he says. Worldwide, there are only eight Atash Behrams, fire temples with the highest grade of fire. Four are in Mumbai, and two happen to be along the alignment of the Metro Line 3, running from Colaba through Bandra to SEEPZ, being built by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL).
“In our religion, well water or stream water is very important to carry out the puja in our fire temples. We are not supposed to take pipe water. The draw-down of the well itself violates our sanctity. This question was raised by me at MMRCL in 2016 – what will the MMRCL do to prevent draining of our wells?” he asks.
He says planning for underground projects must involve not only engineering, but also geology, geomorphology, and other considerations. Buildings on Girgaum road, Mumbadevi and other places where the Metro underground tunnelling work is underway all had wells before piped water supply became the norm, he says.
The community is unhappy that authorities have blamed them for their late reaction to the problem, contending that data given by authorities has been vague and ambiguous. “One of the latest maps put up by MMRCL on April 21, 2018 showed lines that appeared to be much more within the premises of our Atash Behram as compared to what was told to us in the RTI response. When I asked for explanation, the replies were vague,” he says.
The Prime Minister talks about ‘vikas’, he points out, and says, “Progress and development should come so that it benefits citizens, not be at the expense of citizens.”