MUMBAI: on Monday asked the state and Centre why it had taken no stand yet on the issue of religious rights and gave a panel of experts appointed on July 25, an extension of three days to report on the structural stability of two heritage under which Mumbai Metro 3 is to pass and next to which the is proposed.

The high court had on July 25 given the expert team from VJTI—a leading engineering institute in Mumbai—10 days to file its report after inspection of the two fire temples which have the highest grade fires. The order was passed in a petition filed against the proposed route and the tunnelling. The matter was scheduled for a hearing on August 6 before the bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Riyaz Chagla. When it came up for hearing, the bench asked the state and Central government to take a stand by August 13 and adjourned the matter till then.

In the meantime, till August 13, the court continued an order of stay on the tunnelling work beyond walls of the fire temples.

The order comes as a relief for Parsis seeking to protect two of their highest grade Fires in south Mumbai the underground Mumbai Metro route 3, a 35 km stretch from Colaba to Seepz via Bandra. The VJTI Institute has to verify if the tunnelling work would adversely impact the old heritage Atash Behrams.

A statement was made in May by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) to not carry on with tunnelling work, beyond the walls of the two fire temples.

The two Atash Behrams are Wadiaji, consecrated in 1830 and Anjuman 121 years ago. Their health status is considered moderate and a structural engineer Jamshed Sukhadwalla along with four other Parsis including lawyer Berjis Desai who petitioned the court seeking a realignment of the Metro route apprehend damage by the ‘controlled blasting’ for the tunnelling. They also amended their petition to point out that the distance between the proposed Kalbadevi Metro station and the HB Wadia Atash Behram is a mere five metres.

The court had ordered for an independent analysis since the MMRCL which assured that the work would cause no damage as feared by the community, had however not had any report with similar findings by any outside agency.

The Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI) will have to see whether the metro work and its functioning would impact the structural safety of the Atash Behrams and the level and quality of the holy well waters there.

Significantly, since the issue is of protecting the sanctum sanctorum and religious sentiments of the Zoroastrians, since the Atash Behrams—two of the eight in India—hold high spiritual significance, the HC wants both, state and central governments to make clear its stand on the issue in terms of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.

The Article guarantees a fundamental right to all citizens of ‘Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion’. The arguments of the Parsis who had come to court and the Atash Behram priests and trustees who supported the fight against Metro tunnelling under the entire premises, was those religious tenets as provided under Article 25 must not be violated.

The MMRCL’s tunnelling work is on at Azad Maidan area in south Mumbai.

The high court bench had observed that the matter was serious and merited a proper hearing. It had posted the matter for hearing on August 6 to enable adequate time to the state and centre to make its stand clear. A detailed hearing is to take place on August 13.
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