The Archdiocese of Bombay plans to go to court against the demolition of a cross by civic officials in the western Indian city.
The officials on April 29 pulled down a cross near Bazar Road in Bandra, a Mumbai suburb with sizeable number of Catholic and Church institutions. As the demolition upset Catholics, a makeshift cross was installed hours later at the site to “reassure” worshippers.
The demolished cross was on private land and it was erected 122 years ago. “It has religious and historical significance,” said archdiocesan spokesperson Father Nigel Barrett in a statement a day after the demolition.
“We understand that BMC (Bombay Municipal Corporation) had a meeting on April 3 with local communities about the cross. The officer concerned made community members aware of a Supreme Court decision on unauthorized religious structures on roads. The community representatives then presented to the BMC official their legal position and were told to submit their statements in writing,” the priest explained.
On April 26, assistant municipal commissioner Sharad Ughade sent a notice to the church people referring to a public interest litigation (PIL)of 2010 pending before the Bombay High Court. Father Barret says the PIL relates to religious structures on public property.
“The notice was invalid with respect to the cross demolished, as it was on private property. The owner and community organizations had replied in time to the notice and had even met Ughade with documentary evidence, including a revenue plan and property card. The legal position was explained very clearly to Ughade with supporting documents,” the priest explained.
The archdiocesan official says the demolishing the cross without following due process has disturbed the Catholic community.
“This is gross misuse of authority and the archdiocese, in collaboration with various representative bodies, will legally pursue the matter. We hope BMC will take cognizance of this and initiate appropriate action,” Father Barret said.
Ashish Shelar, who represents the area in the state legislative assembly, has called a meeting of all affected parties, on May 2.
“Since BMC’s action is based on an HC order, we will verify all facts. We will peruse the list and examine if the caretakers had received a BMC notice, if they have replied to it, and if their response is being considered by the civic authorities. If BMC is unable to consider their plea, they should get an opportunity to present their case before the HC. For that they require time,” Shelar said.
Ughade told The Times of India that the corporation had removed 32 temples and six crosses as directed by the PIL. After the court order, the corporation senty letters religious structures requesting for their removal. It also arranged a meeting with representatives of the structures along with local councilors where the municipal official explained the situation and repeated the request to remove unauthorized structures.
Accordingly, six temples were found removed, he said added that they started removing other structures on April 29. “A temple and a cross were removed. Action will continue on other structures in the category. We have followed due process of law and the list of structures to be removed has already been published,” the municipal official asserted.