A Needless Controversy In These Times!

Facing a common adversity generally brings people together. Unfortunately, when the community should be coming together in these difficult times, recently there was another controversy abuzz on social media and Whatsapp groups concerning prayers carried out at the Prayer Hall at Worli, meant for Parsis who opt for cremation.

Community activist, Arzan Ghadially, referring to a recent recorded conversation between Jamshed Salamat Irani and Er. Framroze Mirza, which was widely circulated on social media, addressed an e-mail dated 1st August, 2020 to Dinshaw Tamboly, Chairman of the Prayer Hall Services and Maintenance Trust (PHS&MT) seeking answers to six basic questions regarding the functioning of the Hall. These were, as under:

  1. Is the 4-days ceremony compulsory on a payment of Rs. 48,000?
  2. Can prayers be performed by a priest not designated by the Trust?
  3. If a person cannot afford to pay Rs 48,000, will (he/she) be allowed to use the Prayer Hall?
  4. An amount of half a lakh collected with no receipts is an offence. Do you agree?
  5. Can the Trust stop cash payments and allow payments by cheque if no receipts are issued?
  6. (Could the Trust) provide breakup of the Rs. 6,000 charged towards incidental charges? This amount is requested to be discontinued. Let the Trust bear such cost.

It was also alleged that Er. Mirza’s responses regarding the use of the Hall, and refusal to give receipts, was illegal and should be stopped by the Trustees.

Dinshaw Tamboly’s prompt response, dated 3rd August, 2020, running into 5 pages, started by sharing a few facts and clarifications, as under:

  1. The Prayer Hall is the property of the BMC and the PHS&MT cannot, therefore, charge for the use of the Hall. The PHS&MT merely maintains the facility.
  2. As in the case of all religious ceremonies, the fees charged are invariably by mutual agreement between the family having the ceremonies performed and the priest who organises the prayers (generally, the family Panthaky).
  3. The PHS&MT is not the recipient of the charges for prayers.
  4. Er. Framroze Mirza is a practicing priest but is also the coordinator appointed by the PHS&MT for administration and management of the Prayer Hall. He is by no means the only priest authorised to conduct prayers at the Hall and other Panthakys can and have carried out prayers at the Hall.
  5. The PHS&MT is by not flushed with funds to bear costs incurred and has a small corpus from which it manages to keep the Hall in good condition and secure.
  6. Lastly, he implies points the need for greater regard for the dearth of numbers and the plight of our Zoroastrian Priests today, who need to be supported in these difficult times.

His answer to Arzan Ghadially’s six questions are as follows:

  1. The requirement of having all 4 days prayers at the Prayer Hall is temporary and caused by the Covid situation. The indicative charges put out by the Trust have always been for each individual ceremony.
  2. Any priest can perform prayers at the Hall.
  3. There have been two instances so far where families have not wanted prayers and so have only paid the incidental charges of Rs. 6,000 to the Coordinator.
  4. The Rs. 48,000/- charge may be collected by one person but is distributed amongst all priests who pray during the funeral ceremonies. The PHS&MT is not the recipient of the charges.
  5. If it is being alleged that priests generally overcharge today and exploit families, it is not appropriate to place this problem at the door of the PHS&MT.
  6. Exactly as in (4) above, the amount of Rs. 6,000/- collected by the coordinator is distributed to several persons by way of gratuities and there is no single recipient. Tips and gratuities should be given graciously and with dignity and not grudgingly.


Parsi Times received a mail from Arzan Ghadially where he acknowledges receiving the 5-page response from Dinshaw Tamboly, but still seeks clarification on certain issues asserting, that the pandemic notwithstanding, the Prayer Hall Trust was not formed to “safeguard the interest of the reformist priest,” and why  hike up the rates in June 2020 to Rs. 48,000/- citing Corona as the cause, and if this amount is mandatory for the full 4-days prayer at the hall.

Arzan Ghadially believes that the Trust has fixed the above amount and that it “should not engage themselves in matters not concerning them.” He asks “if the Prayer hall, as per the Trust is provided free, why does the Coordinator collect Rs. 6,000/- as ‘incidental charges’ and why is the Trust the decision-maker on charges?”

Having faced these issues in 2017 and 2018, Mr. Ghadially was informed by Er. Faramroz Mirza that the amounts are fixed by the Trust. He also claims to have never received a receipt for these expenses, and has questioned who pockets the Rs. 6,000/-. He has insisted on complete transparency as regards collective earnings and disbursements, and emphasizes that “nothing is being offered for free,” after recounting that since “thirteen cremations took place in July 2020”, was the “amount of Rs 78000 that would have been collected as gratuities.. distributed as tips to all over and above the salary the Trust pays the employees?”

He also alleges that the “Trust requests for voluntary donations to take care of the staff salaries, and putting together tips and donations, the Trust is mostly run by donors of the family and gratuities paid by families and nothing is free as stated.”

Ghadially also alleges that the priests do not do justice to the prayers for the deceased for lesser amounts of money, and that he has received complaints claiming that the coordinator is rude. He concludes his mail with the question to the Prayer Hall Trust, “Can a person, rich or poor, use the prayer hall for free without paying the Rs 6000? and tip people individually as per their wishes.” He suggests if the charge is mandatory, than the words ‘Free use of prayer Hall’ be removed and a receipt be issued for the same.

When posed with these questions again, Dinshaw Tamboly stated that the points raised again were a “regurgitation of issues which have which have been fully addressed in our earlier reply and therefore do not merit a further response.” He has re-emphasized that the Prayer Hall Services and Maintenance Trust does not charge for use of the Hall. Again clarifying the earlier points made, adds, “The charges contained in our circulars, which are put out from time to time, are merely indicative and to guide families that are bereaved. They also represent a ceiling for the fees charged by our co-ordinator and we are satisfied that these charges are not out of line with the charges for these prayers if performed elsewhere. We confirm that we would certainly give a receipt for any donations received directly by the Trust.”

We understand that the exchange of mails between both – Arzan Ghadially and Dinshaw Tamboly – have been posted on the PHS&MT’s Website and we sincerely hope that these clarifications will settle any misunderstandings or queries, and put an end to unwanted controversies.

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