For 296 days, this group has been protesting to save a 150-yr-old Church in B’luru

However, members of the Church say they are disappointed with the lack of response from the metro and the state.
For 296 days, this group has been protesting to save a 150-yr-old Church in B’luru
For 296 days, this group has been protesting to save a 150-yr-old Church in B’luru

Every day for the past 296 days, a small but dedicated group of ten have gathered at the All Saint’s Church in Bengaluru. On Sundays, they’re joined by a larger group of church members. The reason? A protest against the takeover of the church property for the construction of a metro line in the area.

Bengaluru’s Namma Metro wants to build the Vellara junction metro station on church property. The Vellara junction stop will connect Nagawara to Gottigere through Shivajinagar and MG road. While the Detailed Project Report for Phase 2 of the erstwhile Bangalore Metro, was brought out in June 2011, does not touch the church or its property at all, the metro decided to change the alignment in during land acquisition, which sparked off the protests in June last year. In fact, a part of the church property has already been handed over to the metro and the work has started. 

There is however, a pending litigation on who the land belongs to and who has the rights to hand over any portion to the Metro. The Defense Ministry has has said the land belongs to them and the church had no rights to sell it.  

Though the church building itself will not get affected, members of the church say that the underground digging will affect the building, and affect religious activities being conducted in the church. Ebenezer Premkumar, one of the members, says, “The BMRCL says that the building will not be affected, but the church activities will get affected. The congregation is 600 families strong, which we estimate is about 1000 members. When church service is ongoing, the congregation spills out onto the lawn. How will we worship if the metro starts digging in our backyard?” he asks.

“The church has a 150 year old history, and has been around since the British era. There is no other church in the city with this unique architecture. Why should the Metro come and interfere in the place where we are worshipping?” asks Ronald Fernandez, one of the members of the church.

Ebenezer Premkumar, the leader of the church community who organised against the Metro taking over the land, says that they have recently been facing threats from the police against holding protests. “The first time we held a peaceful protest march, we took the police permission and did it. The police were with us and they accompanied us throughout. However, when we approached them to hold another similar rally on December 12, the police declined it.” 

He added, "Some of the trees on the church campus have been around since even before the church was built. There are more than 100 heritage trees that will go if the metro has their way. This is our sacred grove, and we do not want anyone to touch it. Doing so would ruin the peaceful atmosphere which has been cultivated over the years,"

Ebenezer also says that the police have also visited the church in their van, and questioned them, saying that they heard about some trouble brewing on the premises, when in fact the protests had been peaceful. Ebenezer adds, “When we went to the police station for permission, the same police who had accompanied us on the protest rally (June 23, 2019) told us that our protests are disrupting traffic. They even told us not to continue the protest inside the church. When we said we have every right to protest, they told us in a threatening manner, ‘We will see how you will continue the protest’.”

Ebenezer says that the Managing Director (MD) of BMRCL, Ajay Seth, had asked them to call off the dharna, but they refused to. Ajay Seth had planned a visit with the congregation, but cancelled at the last minute, Ebenezer says. After that, the MD has been hard to reach, and has been dragging his feet on resolving the issue.

Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group, highly condemns the response of the Metro and the establishment. He says, “The State is demonstrably unconcerned that a 150 years old living heritage Church is at stake. The Metro, in fact, has no business coming into the Church campus, as the DPR (Detailed Project Report), based on which it has secured loans from European Investment Bank (EIB), requires it to protect the church and its campus comprehensively. After nearly 300 days of protest by the church congregation, a time has come to ask, is it because it is a Church property, that the State and Metro are unconcerned?"

As of March 12, the struggle against the Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL) from taking over their church lands comes up to 296 days. However, with a few days away from the 300 day mark, the members of All Saints Church say that they don’t plan to hold a commemorative event.

Ebenezer says, “There was no inconvenience to anyone: no stone pelting, no shouting, no traffic disruption. But the police are objecting to a public protest citing disruption. However, we don’t plan to press the issue, as there is a lot of unrest, the police are wary of protests (referring to the anti-CAA protests). We will continue the protest inside the church, and follow up the matter with the higher authorities.” Ebenezer concludes.

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