An investigation is underway into the alleged sale of 'defence' land by the Church of South India (CSI) for the Bengaluru metro project and collecting Rs 60 crore compensation.
"We are inquiring into the Defence Ministry's complaint that the CSI had illegally sold a portion of its land, leased to it over a century ago, for the metro project and collected Rs 60 crore compensation from its operator (BMRCL)," Bengaluru Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Chetan Singh Rathore told IANS.
The Cubbon Park police station on August 20 registered an FIR against the CSI for allegedly 'cheating' the defence ministry by selling 7,426 square metres of its land located in the All Saints Church complex to the state-run Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (BMRCL) without its knowledge and consent.
"We have asked both the parties to submit us all documents pertaining to the prime land to ascertain its rightful owner, as they (records) date back to 1860s when the city was under the British rule and the Mysuru Wodeyars were the owners of public lands then," said Rathore.
Though the BMRCL is building an underground station beneath the land claimed by the two parties for its second phase of the metro project on the north-south (Nagawara-Gottigere) route, the operator plans to use it for parking and other allied activities.
"As preliminary investigation has also revealed that both the parties have contested the land ownership in a city civil court, we will wait for its outcome before proceeding with the case," added Rathore.
Defending the land purchase from the CSI through its state-run nodal agency - Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB), a BMRCL spokesman said the acquisition and compensation (Rs 60 crore) were paid to the CSI after due diligence and public notice for objections.
"As KIADB is the state-run agency dealing with sale and purchase of lands for indutries and infrastructure projects across the southern state, it has vetted the documents the CSI submitted for acquiring it and compensating for it suitably," BMRCL official YBK. Chavan told IANS.
For the a72 km second phase of the metro project in the city connecting with the 43 km first phase on the east-west and the north-south routes, the operator has been acquiring private and public lands across the city with compensation at the market rate and giving transfer development rights (TDR) for those surrendering their properties in the way of the route.
"If the Defence Ministry claims that the land was leased to the CSI in the 1860s, the onus is on it to prove that it was its owner and submit the lease agreement they both would have entered into over 130 years ago" Rathore pointed out.
Questioning the Ministry's ownership claim on the land, a church official said the East India Company was the original owner of all public lands in the city's cantonment area during the British Raj and vast tracts of lands were gifted or donated to social organisations and religious institutions for building community halls, churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship.
"In the 1860s or subsequently till the mid-1940s, where was the Indian government and the defence ministry to claim that the land in the All Saints Church premises belonged to it unless it was an open land and inherited by the transfer of assets from the British regime," the official told IANS on the condition of anonymity.
On its complaint to the police against the CSI, a Defence official said legal action would be taken against the latter for breaching the lease agreement and taking the Rs 60 crore compensation without informing the army sub-area commandant and taking his consent..