A last resort plan worth Rs 1 crore to breed vultures to consume the Parsis’ dead in traditional last rites at the Tower of Silence has flown straight into a dead end.
The reason: fears that the already endangered vultures could end up dying too.
“The plan has been shelved,” said Asad Rahmani, Director, Bombay Natural History Society, and declined further comment.
At the centre of the dilemma is an anti-inflammatory painkiller diclofenac, often prescribed for patients of arthritis or injury, but fatal to vultures. “For now, we have shelved the project since diclofenac will be present in human bodies,” said Dinshaw Mehta, chairman, Bombay Parsi Punchayet, that had earlier cleared the plan.
The drug’s veterinary use is banned in India since scientists proved that vultures feeding on livestock carcasses with strains of the drug died of kidney failure, with 97 per cent vultures lost since the ’90s. The World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthosthis had started a ‘Say No to Diclofenac’ campaign. Founder-member Khojeste Mistree blamed ‘political interests’.
The community is grappling with how to continue its traditional funerary rites based on beliefs that the soul is freed only when scavenging birds consume mortal remains within days. About three corpses are taken into the Tower of Silence daily, but bodies are taking longer to decompose.
“It makes no sense till we come to an understanding with doctors to not prescribe drugs containing diclofenac,” said Mehta. “The diclofenac issue is just a ruse,” countered Mistree to HT. “Diclofenac stays in the body only for 72 hours after consumption.” However, Mehta added: “Most doctors are non-Parsis, so they don't understand.”