On July 12, civic authorities demolished a portion of the Syro-Malabar church in Chattarpur (South Delhi). The structure was reportedly built on encroached Gram Sabha land. Ankita Chakravarti, South Delhi District Magistrate, said in an official statement that the demolition exercise was carried out as per High Court orders of 2015.
The statement read, “A demolition drive was conducted today on pillar number 36 and 120 of Chattarpur. The land is an original gram sabha land for which the boundary work was done by Irrigation and Flood Control Department (I&FC). However, it was encroached on by some people by the instalment of religious structures. Over time the encroached area started increasing in the garb of the expansion of the religious structure. Therefore, the Block Development Office tried to undertake the demolition of the unauthorised structures.”
The south Delhi DM added that the Church authorities had approached the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC). The matter was later forwarded to the religious committee. On March 3, Home Police-II Department received a letter that directed to demolish the entire construction above the ground floor as well as the portions of the ground where idols were not placed without further delay.
The DM said, “Thereafter, a letter was received from the Home Police-II Department dated March 3, where they cited the High Court order of 2015 in WPC no 5234/2011 wherein it was directed to demolish the entire construction above the ground floor as well as portions of the ground where idols are not installed/placed without waiting for the decision of the religious committee,” the DM said. She further added that the notices were served to the encroachers, and the demolition was successfully carried out on Monday.
Notice was sent on July 7
On July 7, a notice was issued from the office of the block development officer (south) to the encroachers/unauthorised occupants. The notice directed them to remove the encroachment within three days. It read, “Now, therefore, all the encroachers/unauthorised occupants on the above said gaon sabha land are hereby directed to remove the encroachment themselves within three days from the date of issue of this notice failing which the action for removal of illegal encroachment upon the gram sabha land shall be initiated by this office, and the cost of demolition shall be recovered from the encroachers.”
South Delhi Church members cry foul
Father Jose, Parish priest of the Little Flower Church located in Andheria Modh of Chhattarpur’s Dr Ambedkar Colony, alleged that they did not get notice or any prior information regarding the demolition. He said, “This has been our church for the past 14 years. We have a congregation of 460 families here. Almost 500 students are studying here. They promised me that they would not demolish the church, and they wanted to demolish only the shed. I did not get any notice or prior information regarding the demolition.”
Pastor council member and lawyer John Thomas was quoted by Times of India saying, “Neither did we receive any notice nor were we given time to vacate the land. The officers came with 150 police personnel and three JCBs and demolished the entire structure against the high court’s order. We were not even allowed to retrieve our sacred things.” He called it an illegal and illicit act and said that the church would take legal action in the matter.
The land on which encroachment was done now belongs to the Forest Department based on the Special Task Force report that was submitted in the National Green Tribunal. It will be soon handed over to the department.