While activists are against construction activity inside the compound of the 150-year-old All Saints Church, the BMRCL is unlikely to budge from its original plan.

Impasse over use of 150-yr-old church land may delay Namma Metro Phase-II
news Controversy Tuesday, June 25, 2019 - 18:34

A tough stand by the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) on the contentious construction activity inside the tree-dotted compound of the 150-year-old All Saints Church may delay the progress of construction of Gottigere-Nagavara Line. The Gottigere-Nagavara Line is part of the Reach 6 of Phase-II of Namma Metro and is set to be ready by March 2023.

This as those opposed to the BMRCL’s hardline approach in using part of the 150-year-old church complex as a temporary workshop and resultant culling of over 150 trees are considering moving the Karnataka High Court.

A source in the BMRCL claimed that there won’t be any relook in the alignment from BMRCL’s side. Despite multiple attempts, BMRCL MD Ajay Seth could not be reached for comment.

Confident that the actions by the BMRCL tantamount to contempt of court, the protestors say that they have no option other than seeking a stay on the construction for the sake of the environment, human health and the city’s heritage. 

Leo Saldhana, the senior lawyer and coordinator of the Environment Support Group, said, “Alignments should not be decided based on what engineers decide as per convenience. If that was the case, then the metro alignment was more suited to be taken through Vidhana Soudha. They could have even taken the metro under Vidhana Soudha without damaging any roads meant for public use. But they chose not to do it because of the asymmetry of power.”

“As we go to the court, we will ask for a stay as they have already violated the court order related to metro Phase 1. We have been reminding them repeatedly. I have met Ajay Seth a month ago. He, in fact, assured me that the mistakes committed in Phase 1 won't be repeated in Phase 2. And I took his words on face value. But recently, the All Saints congregation showed me a letter which Seth had written to the Bishop. The letter states, 'People are protesting, that is your problem to deal with. If you don't give me the land, I will take it over permanently.’ Now that is what I call administrative terrorism because no IAS officer has the right to take over someone's land,” he added.

Saldhana said the high court in its November 2019 verdict in the Environment Support Group and others vs. BMRCL and others case had contended that all large scale infrastructure projects in the state should follow three rounds of a process of public consultation as per the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961.

To this date, BMRCL has not undertaken any task or action to comply with the aforesaid direction, which requires the agency to seek the assistance of Bangalore Development Authority in conforming strictly to the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act.  BMRCL has failed to comply with this procedure, and so the proposed work for Phase II of the Metro is in blatant violation of the law and is contemptuous.

Environmental activists and churchgoers have insisted that instead of using the church compound as the workshop, BMRCL can use the empty Central Military Police ground in the vicinity. Even the Tree Committee, in its correspondence to the BMRCL, has asked the body to use the vacant military land for the purpose.

Speaking to TNM, BBMP Deputy Conservator of Forests, Cholarajappa confirmed that he has not given permission to the BMRCL to cut any tree in the church premises.

The BMRCL, however, has not changed its stance on the issue despite multiple protests and representations sent on the issue since April.  A change.org petition seeking a modification in plan from the BMRCL has been supported by more than 31,000 people.

Other than the temporary workshop, a station will replace a school for children with learning and cognitive disabilities as well as an old age home. Many also fear that the construction activity will impact the heritage church structure itself.

Joseph Hoover, part of the United Conservation Movement, said, “The metro station here itself does not make sense as the next station in Langford Town will be less than 900 m from this current station and if two people start walking from each of the stations they can meet in two minutes. So by doing away with this station, you save the trees. Other than this, no other stations are less than 1 km apart in the stretch. If they compromise, that will be good otherwise the construction itself can be stopped if we approach the courts.”

“Also these trees should be counted as sacred groves as they are more than 100 years old and according to the state forest manual, they can’t even touch the trees now. Sadly, the BMRCL is not encouraging discussions, they want to function undemocratically. This is nothing but bureaucratic terrorism," he added. 

Public consultation 

Sandeep Anirudhan, an activist based in the city, said that these issues crop up as different government agencies from time to time do not follow the stipulated public consultation processes laid down in the law.

“Not only BMRCL, but many government agencies are constantly violating these laws. This should be corrected, and in fact, public officials and bodies such as BMRCL, who blatantly violate the laws, ought to be booked and punished. How can the executive turn violator?  Then how do we expect others to follow the laws?” he said.

 
 

 

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