PROGRESS AND SABOTAGE AT DOONGERWADI
by Homi Dhalla
The Doongerwadi estate is the largest and most valuable property of the Parsi community worldwide. I have been involved in its amelioration on a purely voluntary basis for the last 35 years as a member of the Doongerwadi Advisory Committee (DAC). After the new Trustees took over in 2008, the DAC was disbanded and Mr. Khojeste Mistree was in total charge since then. It is pertinent to note that Mr. Maneck Engineer, a formerTrustee of BPP, in a letter dated November 1, 2004 addressed to Chairman, Mr. Minoo Shroff had stated that “the BPP has spent almost Rs. 45-50 lacs on afforestation in the last 5 years”. The same letter mentions the name of Mr. Mistree as being an active member of the DAC. According to http://www.neighborlypest.com, other letters also state that termite treatment was being provided to the trees at that time and matti (soil) was being brought into Doongerwadi on payment.
In the light of the above, during the 5 years, when Mr. Mistree was looking after Doongerwadi, he had stopped all termite treatment leading to serious damage not only to about 40 large trees but also the destruction of innumerable smaller trees. During this period, smaller trees were not provided with manure or matti leading to their stunted growth, the drip irrigation system was totally neglected, new trees were not planted during this period as was the custom for several years and branches of large and dead trees were left in heaps adding to the termite problem. Considering the fact that when the community has spent lacs on afforestation, how much harm Mr. Mistree has done in five years.
Towards the end of 2012, the DAC was once again reconvened. At about this time, a large termite-infected 70-80 year old tree fell breaking a solar concentrator. As a DAC member, I visited the site. I was shocked to observe that a large number of trees had been badly affected and smaller ones had already died. I invited DAC members to witness this for themselves. Chairman, Mr. Dinshaw Mehta and Trustee Ms. Arnavaz Mistry personally came to see the damage. I had put up a report to the Trustees and kudos to Mr. Mehta for taking the decision to recommence the termite treatment in the face of opposition from Mr. Mistree. On making inquiries, I was informed that termite treatment is being provided at Godrej properties at Vikhroli, BARC, Rani Baug at Byculla and by BMC. Mr. Rohinton Rivetna of Chicago on making inquiries with the Chicago Botanical Gardens was also informed that termite treatment is being used even there. I had suggested that a specialist be brought in to guide us in matters of afforestation. Mr. Engineer had suggested the name of Mr. Prashant Nijasure who was guiding and supervising all our work for many months. Even today, we are following his guidelines.
From April 2013 till date, I have been taking a very keen interest by visiting Doongerwadi once or twice a month and submitting reports to the Trustees and DAC every month. Till date, 13 reports have been submitted. The following progress has been made during this period:
1. About 120 new trees have been planted and about 200 or more would be planted during the monsoons.
2. Till date, about 900 trees which were stunted and weak were provided Herbal Hume to boost their growth.
3. About 1500 trees have been provided with manure.
4. The drip irrigation system is working effectively.
5. Good quality matti has been provided free of charge, to neglected areas of Doongerwadi where new trees have been planted.
Over the years, it has been a practice to purchase matti (soil) and manure for Doongerwadi. In the last three months, we have received about 300 trucks of matti. This was provided free of charge from a nearby construction site together with a JCP machine for leveling the matti and digging pits for new plants. In the normal course, the contractor would have taken this material to the distant suburbs for disposal. The BPP has saved lacs of rupees for this. The soil was sent to a laboratory for testing and the report about its quality is positive. In my report to the DAC dated January 14, 2014, I had mentioned that we have been receiving matti free of charge. Although we have not provided manure, the new trees are thriving because of the quality of the soil.
On March 29, 2014, Trustees Mr. Yazdi Desai and Mr. Mistree came to the Doongerwadi and issued orders that no further matti should be brought in and work should be stopped, when about 75% of the project was completed. Why did they stop the matti from being supplied after three months of my informing them about it? The contractor was also supplying large stones necessary to keep the matti in place. Since work has been stopped, there is every danger that during the monsoons, large amounts of matti not being blocked by stones will go down the slope and obstruct the bunglis. This deliberate sabotage has been done by these two Trustees and they will be solely responsible for any damage that may be caused. Thanks again to the initiative of Mr. Mehta that a few stones are being brought in. Unfortunately, both Mr. Mistree and Mr. Desai have been spreading total lies that “300 trucks of debris has been dumped at Doongerwadi”. The least we expect from Trustees of the BPP is not to resort to blatant lies when they have themselves seen that it is soil and not debris.
As explained above, in the past, Mr. Mistree allowed termite treatment and matti being brought intoDoongerwadi on payment. Now he has taken a summersault and objects to termite treatment as well as being instrumental in stopping matti being brought in free of charge, all to the detriment of Doongerwadi
Besides afforestation, I have been pointing out to other problems at Doongerwadi in many of my reports. To mention only two viz., the Tarachand lower bungli which has been kept locked for the last five years is in very poor shape. Secondly, a large overhead water tank is totally corroded and has not been repaired for years. If it starts leaking, hundreds of trees will die.
In the light of the above, I would like to ask Mr. Mistree why he had not attended to all these matters for five years. Why was he so inefficient so as to cause so much damage to Doongerwadi? Why has he and Mr. Desai suddenly started sabotaging the constructive work that is being done by me?