SOUL – Save Our Land; in EXAMINER.

By Harold Mendes

Published in The Examiner, issue dated January 26, 2013

OL of Assumption_church      St. Anthony's Church Malwani

In the not too distant future I forsee the title of this article becoming an oft-repeated “mantra”, on the lips of each and every parishioner of Mumbai. In the recent past, there have been instances of mostly Catholic Church property being targeted for acquisition of land   for grand social development programs  ( St. Andrew’s and St.Peter’s, Bandra; St Vincent de Paul Church, Chuim; Our Lady of Health, Sahar; to name just a few ). Last year Our Lady of the Assumption Church ( OLAC ), Kandivli West, and St. Anthony Church ( SAC ), Malwani, were the latest victims of this Land Acquisition Pogrom. And just a few days ago Our Lady of Fatima Church, Kirol, Vidyavihar, was in the news for the same reason. These are not one-off occasions, but a well planned strategy aimed at soft targets. But little did the BMC realise that they have awakened a sleeping giant. Events have proved that a sustained and   determined effort have helped us to save many of our church properties in the past.

The details of the problem faced by OLAC appeared in The Examiner issue dated Nov. 03, 2012. The SOUL committee was formed to tackle this situation with non-violent war-like strategies. SOUL took on a life of its own when SOUL Malwani was formed last month.

A brief history of SAC and their problem. SAC and OLAC shared a common Mother Church, Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Magathane, in the early years of 1600 AD. St. Anthony’s Parish was founded somewhere between 1630-1642 AD. Two sister parishes linked by historical ties reaching back nearly 400 years fighting injustice on a common platform – SOUL ; ironic isn’t it ?  SAC and the Parochial house were built somewhere in  1872. In fact St. Anthony Church, Malwani, and the precincts have been listed in the proposed Heritage Grade II A list. The Development Plan (DP) states that a 90 feet road has to be laid along the entire Malad-Marve stretch. For this the SAC has been asked to surrender an ENORMOUS chunk of land which will lead to the demolition of the age old Parochial House, the St. Anthony Grotto, century-old trees and Church and School land. The new compound wall will be just a few feet away from the Church altar and the School entrance. Envision this – Parishioners will have to wear ear plugs during mass to drown out the sound of traffic, thus effectively drowning out what the priest  is saying too ; children tend to rush out en masse after the final bell is rung and they spill out onto the oncoming traffic ( imagine the consequences of this day in and day out ).

This DP dates back to 1971, yes 1971, when the only structure visible was the Church, the old School and the Parochial house . All around there was vacant land. Today the area rivals Manhattan, New York, albeit in an extremely haphazard and frenzied way, with rules and regulations thrown to the winds blowing in from the Arabian Sea. The BMC by law should acquire land equally from both sides of the road, but this is not what is happening. The opposite side of the road has buildings spilling out onto the road and re-development plans were sanctioned left, right and center as recently as a few years back, without logic and without referring to the DP. Now the BMC with their blinkered vision only sees SAC as their redemption to build the road. They have conveniently shifted the center of the road line right onto the church property; so not only do we have to surrender our land for setback, but also land which should have been acquired from  the plots on the other side. An extremely raw deal and a glaring injustice ! This would have been laughable if we would have seen this scenario in a B grade movie or pulp fiction novel. But this certainly is no laughing matter for the parishioners of Malwani, the BCS,  the SOUL teams and the Catholics in Mumbai in general. To compound the problem further, hardly 200 metres from the SAC, towards Marve/Madh, the whole area is a no-development zone because of INS Hamla  stationed there for the security of our country . The land is also rich in mangroves and environmentally very fragile, and any violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) and Environment Ministry guidelines  is a criminal offence. This begs the question – for what purpose is the land being acquired and who is going to benefit ? (  OLAC surrendered a large portion of land free of cost to the BMC 29 years back in front of the church for road widening purposes, and now that very same land is a free-for-all parking, a public dustbin not cleared for days together and living quarters for immigrant encroachers. Its just going to be history repeating itself. )  Mr. MC of the BMC, where is the justification for acquiring land belonging to OLAC and SAC ????

Are we gonna be silent as always ?

NO ! The SOUL teams of OLAC and SAC along with the Bombay Catholic Sabha (BCS) and  the  parishioners ( especially the youth ), PTA members of the  respective schools, advocates and social activists from various parishes, not forgetting the immense support from the former Commissioner of Police, Mr. Julio Ribeiro,  organised innumerable meetings with the local Corporators, the DMCs of the local Ward Offices, MLAs, MPs and recently on Dec 20, 2012 with Mr. Sitaram Kunte, the Municipal Commissioner, and on Jan.11, 2013 with Ms. Priya Dutt, Cong MP,  to get the problem sorted out amicably.

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On Dec. 1, 2012, a peaceful protest rally was organised at the OLAC grounds, with over 5000 people making their presence felt. On Jan.5, 2013, a massive Candlelight procession was organised from Asmita Cross on Marve Road and simultaneously from SAC, both culminating at the Infant Jesus Chapel at Kharodi, where the attendees were in excess of 10000, including BCS members from various parishes, parishioners from OLAC, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Orlem, Our Lady of the Forsaken Church, Kharodi and others. The traffic on Marve Road, New Link Road and the S V Road was in disarray for more than an hour. Not a single untoward incident was reported during these two shows of strength, earning the Catholic Community the respect of the RTO and the Police stations once again. The only question on their lips and the general public was – What is affecting the peaceful and law-abiding Christians so much that they have to come out on the roads to make their voice heard ? This is the same question that we as Catholics have to ask ourselves now !

The Dean of the Borivli Deanery, Fr. Barthol Barretto, was also kind enough to give the SOUL and BCS members a platform at the Deanery meeting held on Jan.10, 2013, to explain and apprise the priests of various parishes the actual situation and the course of action being  taken by us, and to caution them to be aware of  similar situations arising in their respective parishes in the future. The parishioners of both OLAC and SAC have grown exponentially during the past decade and is  still growing at a rapid pace; every bit of land we own has to be preserved at all costs for the future generations. Or there may come a time when Christmas and Feast masses, Holy Week services and other important services will have to be held in rotation throughout the day due to lack of space; a thought to ponder !

The SOUL team is organising a Peaceful Silent Morcha on Saturday, Jan.19, 2013, to the P North Ward office. This will begin at 9.30 am from Asmita Cross on Marve Road and proceed towards Orlem , Mamlatdarwadi and further on towards Liberty garden. This Morcha will include cyclists, bikers and four wheelers. We earnestly welcome one and all to join in and make it even more of a resounding success that the Candlelight procession. We have to force the BMC to listen and take action and withdraw both the acquisition notices. This Agenda or Program of targeting Catholic Churches again and again and again has to be nipped in the bud and stopped once and for all. Today it is us, tomorrow it could be you !

Let’s do some SOUL searching and be AWAKE, AWARE and ARISE !

facebook page – Peoples Stand For Their Land – OLAC and St. Joseph High School

SAC SOUL team – Stanley Fernandez ( 9892500031; sfz62@yahoo.co.in ),  Greg Pereira (9870719628; pereiragreg@ymail.com ) Bernadine D’Costa (9819035773) and Noel Duarte ( 9821319418; noelduarte@yahoo.com )

OLAC SOUL team – Prashanth Pereira  ( 9323195965;  pdominic22@gmail.com),  Lennon  Miranda ( 9867223777; len.miranda@gmail.com )  and Harold  Mendes  ( 9920357917; harrymendes@gmail.com )

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Blog: http://www.silentmaj.wordpress.com

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