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Mumbai: Thousands of Catholics led by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop and President, Catholic Bishops Conference of India prayed at Cross Maidan, today and then protested at a rally against the demolition of 3 Crosses, one believed to be in existence since 1936 in Byculla-Mazagaon area of the city. This despite the chief minister and the municipal commissioner giving Christians a 15 day time frame to produce documentation on the crosses.

Various state governments are demolishing religious structures, following a Supreme Court directive, which is giving a communal colour to the demolition drive, with Christians being selectively targetted. Hence, the prayer protest will call for a policy from the Union and State Governments, after seeking SC clarification.

Next Programme: An inter-religious rally at Azad Maidan – if the State Government does not act on the below:

The Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) Demands

1. Apology from the BMC Officers

2. Policy by the State Government

3. Written Instructions from The CM

4. Return and Reconstruction of the Crosses

5. State Affidavit to Supreme Court Expressing Inability

6. Suspend A Waghralkar, Asst Municipal Commissioner

7. State must appoint a committee, involving all communities

8. Place information on Religious Structures in Public Domain

The Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) asks

1. How many structures in Maharashtra?

2. What is the procedure to be adopted?

3. Different states following different criteria?

4. What is the communal map of the structures?

5. What are the parameters to determine illegality

6. Are Christians soft targets? Why begin with them?

7. Does’nt this amount to inciting communal passions?

8. Why were community leaders not taken in confidence?

9. Are BMC officers not behaving in a communal manner?

10. Is not the manner of execution amounting to desecration?

The Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) points out –

The 2009 SC directions are not final orders. Only Interim guidelines, pending settlement of the case. The SC is clear that only structures after this date were to be demolished. The SC states that for ones prior to it, the administrtation should go for a case to case study and then decide on regularising the structure, relocating it or demolishing it.

The SC order also clearly states that all those structures which are more than 30 years old can be be regularised. But instead of going through the process of regularising, relocating and demolishing, why is the government is keen on creating forcing a communal flashpoint?

The interim order imposing a blanket ban on fresh construction of religious places on roadsides or illegally on public land came from a Bench comprising Justices Dalveer Bhandari and M K Sharma. Has this been followed? Then why go after old constructions prior to the order?

The Supreme Court has only asked for a report on illegal structures and not on demolition. It called for demolition only of new structures that came up post 2009. The court asked state governments to review the status of each such illegal structure and take a decision expeditiously.

Quoting the September 19 letter of Union home secretary G K Pillai, the Bench said, “In respect of unauthorised construction of any religious nature existing as on date, the state shall review on case to case basis and take appropriate action as expeditiously as possible.”

The SC made district magistrates/collectors nodal officers. It asked them to submit reports to their respective state chief secretary, who in turn would file a status report. What does the status report in case of Maharashtra say? Tamil Nadu is leading the states, with 77,453 unauthorized religious structures, followed by Rajasthan – 58,253 and Madhya Pradesh – 51,624. Delhi has the least at 52. Sikkim, Mizoram and Nagaland had no such religious structures in public places.

West Bengal government has filed an affidavit that action to remove them may have adverse impact on law and order situation and hurt the religious sentiments of the people. No State government has given any time bound framework to manage the structures. From the affidavits, it appears that none of the state secretaries have taken solid measures to abide by the Supreme Court order.Only states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Punjab, West Bengal, Gujarat and union territory of Chandigarh have filed their affidavits.

In view of the above, we would like to urge the Government to seek legal counsel and represent on behalf of all religions, to the SC and union government for a uniform policy on the issue. It is not an issue concerning a particular state or faith, hence, the Government needs to act.