Structural engineer Jamshed Sukhadwala and four other Parsis had in May petitioned the Bombay high court to seek a realignment of the Metro III route to bypass two fire temples, one 188 years old and the other 122. They said the tunnelling would not just damage the heritage structures but would impinge on the community’s fundamental right to religion.
The petitioners wanted the alignment moved by a further 5m even after the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) agreed to a 3.5m shift. The HC held that the “concession given by MMRCL cannot be construed to be a flaw in the decision-making process’’.
The bench rejected a plea to continue the stay on tunnelling for two more weeks to allow the petitioners time to appeal in the Supreme Court. “We are conscious it is an infrastructure project being executed in the larger interest of the public. The project involves huge costs. Delay may further escalate cost,” it said, rejecting the request by the petitioners’ counsel Navroz Seervai after MMRCL counsel S G Aney opposed it, saying Rs 4 crore was being lost daily due to the delay.
The HC accepted the reports submitted by a panel headed by Ashwini Bhide, MD, MMRCL and later by an independent panel of Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute. Both had rejected the alternatives proposed by the petitioners, and the VJTI panel had recommended that tunnelling to be permitted with certain safeguards.
Chief Justice Patil said the petitioners “utterly failed to establish the basis” under Article 25 or to produce proof to back their claim that the “entire structure of the two atash behrams which house the sacred fire is a composite whole and is consecrated… and that if a tunnel is allowed underneath, it would lead to complete desecration…”.
“We do appreciate and record that the Parsi community has been contributing immensely in all spheres of social, human and cultural development and left an indelible mark, a fact equally and fairly recognised by MMRCL counsel who in turn urged them to be a little accommodative and allow the project,’’ said the Chief Justice.
“Mumbai is a megacity and a commercial hub known nationally and internationally. Residents deserve a safe, convenient transport system. In fact, such system ought to have come up long back,’’ he added.
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