Rayomand Coins

Building bridges

There is no study conducted on the impact of social media on the Parsi and Zoroastrian community. Does the new, inexpensive, easy to use and accessible technology bring the community closer together or further divide it? Is social media having a beneficial or detrimental effect on the community, individuals, families and institutions? While these questions have to be studied and debated, there is no reason why the community cannot avail of the advantages of WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube that create awareness, disseminate information, develop resources and maybe even help raise funds. 
A popular new WhatsApp group titled Dial-a-Parsi helps community members connect with each other for various services, products, food, etc. As the number of participants keeps increasing, the administrator has added two more such groups. Once the 5G network is introduced in India, new and varied businesses will arise.
For the 12th World Zoroastrian Congress in New York in early July, a specially constituted WhatsApp group for the young registrants brought them on a common platform ahead of the global event in keeping with its theme, Bridging the global Zarathushti existence. 
In the run-up to the May 29, 2022 Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trusteeship elections for seven seats, all the major parties and candidates used social media to spread word on their plans, achievements and promises. New Facebook pages were opened to carry reports and photos of the election meets of the leading parties/individuals held on an almost daily basis in the various baugs all over the city. 
Less than a week after assuming office on May 31, the trustees’ announcement of their successful talks with the Bombay Municipal Corporation officials to ensure Covid afflicted corpses could be confined to a dakhma was circulated on WhatsApp groups. So also were the successful negotiations with the BPP workers’ union regarding pallbearers agreeing to carry Covid afflicted corpses to the Tower of Silence.  They had initially refused to consign such corpses.
The question arises as to why these two developments were not announced on the BPP website, bombayparsipunchayet.org. The BPP does not appear to have a Facebook page that they manage nor a Twitter account. An Instagram account shows only one entry and it is doubtful whether the BPP administers the platform. Why is it that when the trustees so promptly and effectively used social media to bolster their electoral messages, they are reticent to do the same for the institution they now serve? One can justifiably argue they have assumed office only a month or so ago and need time. Also disagreements may arise as to what to publicize. But the new board should hopefully function more harmoniously than the previous, dysfunctional one. Even if all seven trustees do not agree on what is to be publicized, at least the majority trustees can take a decision and go ahead. During electioneering, all the candidates promised transparency. Now they must deliver on that promise. Funds should not be a consideration for the cash starved trust as social media expenses are a fraction of print cost. If the BPP lacks the personnel to manage the media outlets, they can always outsource the technical responsibility. Having promised to communicate with the electorate during the prelude to the balloting, they need to do so regularly, in a time-bound and structured manner. 
 The BPP, this June, released an advertisement in the Parsi media for auctioning of a two bedroom flat in Gamadia Colony. One would assume the flat would have been offered on tenancy as per the decision taken hastily by the three majority trustees just prior to the May 29 elections. Instead, the advertisement states, "The said flat is proposed to be offered on (a) leave and license basis.” Surely the bidders and the community have a right to know why this was done? Will a license agreement as versus tenancy dampen the enthusiasm of bidders? Or lower the amount of the bid? Is there a legal hitch? Parsiana wrote to the trustees, jointly and individually on June 24 to inquire if there was a change in policy. Would a successful bidder later have to go through the cumbersome and expensive process of changing the license to tenancy? No reply had been received till the time of going to press but an unofficial source said there was disagreement among the seven on the issue and rather than publicly squabble, they followed the old procedure. If so, the give-and-take approach augurs well for the community; but why the secrecy? The flat reportedly sold at over a crore of rupees. And why wasn’t the sale also announced on the BPP website as well?
The Parsi Junction weekly stated, in its issue of May 22, that the BPP faces an annual deficit of Rs 10 crores. Two sources of revenue were mentioned — rent and interest from investments — that bring in Rs 13,60,00,000. The only other source at present is auctioning flats. Never mind that selling of flats to the wealthy would be against the wishes of the settlors of the trust. If the proceeds from the auction help to pay the bills, that apparently overrides the donors wishes. Another source of revenue that has proved elusive is the monetary realization from the sale of properties under development by the BPP. These delays been attributed to legal and bureaucratic hurdles, as well as to differences among the trustees.
Will the new board succeed where the past ones have failed? If they can surmount their differences and not let legacy issues cloud their judgement, they have a fair chance of sucess. The urgency is there.  The office of the collector has raised demands totaling over rupees seven crores for the past lease dues of Rustom, Jer and Ness baugs. The BPP is challenging the claim. If they lose, interest will be added to the capital amount said to be due. If a new, proposed annual lease rent of Rs 2 crore for the three baugs comes in to effect, the BPP’s coffers will be further depleted.
The BPP does not publish or put up on their website their annual accounts or report. Whether they prepare an annual budget is not known. If they do, its a well-kept secret. 
If the new BPP board intends to refurbish the image of the 349-year-old trust and balance their books of accounts, they will have to take the community into confidence. This is one campaign promise they should honor if they want the trust to remain solvent. 


Villoo Poonawalla