Divyesh Singh TWEETS @MumbaiMirror
Parishioners of the state’s oldest church have demanded revocation of a controversial sale that saw Hiranandani Constructions bag development rights for 21,000 sq mt of church land for Rs 20 crore.Parishioners of Our Lady of Mercy Church at Thane’s Pokhran Road passed a resolution opposing the 2007 sale last month and handed their appeal to the archdiocese, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, on Sunday.
The sale has been opposed on three main grounds: the church, built on a 37,500-sq mt land, is a heritage property; the former priest who struck the deal did not share full details with parishioners; and the plot in question has been reserved as a playground.
“It is a heritage church and parishioners want to ensure that the land is not taken over by builders,“ said Melwyn Fernandes, a member of the church’s property committee that passed the resolution against the sale.
“The cardinal has the authority to revoke sale of any church land. We are hopeful that our appeal will be heard.“
Former priest Father John Rumao, who was previously the sole trustee, had signed the deal for the 21,000 sq mt of church land with Hiranandani Constructions. Mumbai Mirror had reported the sale in 2013.
The developer had apparently planned to hand over the plot the Thane Municipal Commissioner and seek transfer of development rights in exchange. But the deal was stayed by the charity commissioner.
While surrendering development rights, Father Rumao allegedly told officials that the plot had been heavily encroached upon. Church-goers, who learned about his claim recently, say that the plot has always been free of encroachments.
The deal was struck for Rs 20 crore, but parishioners say in 2007, it was easily worth Rs 50 crore.
“Queen Victoria had gifted the land for the church. We obtained the land deed details under the Right to Information Act,“ said CP Georje, a member of the property committee. “The Archaeological Survey of India had asked the civic body to declare the area as a heritage property, but officials have failed to do so.“