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Church members accuse Bengaluru metro officials of arm-twisting

With hundreds of trees and part of the church under threat of facing the axe, church-goers and activists have been protesting against the land acquisition.

The feud over the acquisition of land next to All Saints Church near Vellara Junction in Bengaluru has taken a new turn, with the All Saints Church Congregation Welfare Association accusing Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) of arm-twisting Church of South India (CSI).

The BMRCL had proposed to temporarily acquire 3,797.271 sq. m land on the All Saints Church premises. The land is required for the construction of an underground station on Namma Metro’s Phase 2 line between Gottigere and Nagavara.

With hundreds of trees and part of the church under threat of facing the axe, church-goers and activists have been protesting against the land acquisition. The association is now accusing BMRCL Director Ajay Seth of threatening the CSI of taking over the property by use of force.

“We were to learn that Reverend PK Samuel, Bishop of the Church of South India Karnataka Central Diocese and the Church’s Pastorate Committee have repeatedly appealed to Bangalore Metro and other authorities of the State to drop the idea of damaging the Church and any of its property. In response, Mr. Ajay Seth, IAS, Managing Director of Bangalore Metro, has written in his 25th May 2019 letter to the Bishop threatening to take over the church property, and permanently too, if the Church refuses to part with the land voluntarily,” a statement from the association reads.

The association claims that the threats had led to the CSI parting with the land temporarily without being aware that it violates judicial verdicts and amounts to destruction of biodiversity.

BMRCL’s chief public relations officer B L Yashvanth Chavan, refuted the allegations and said that the church members must cooperate as BMRCL was planning to transplant the trees and not cut them down. “They have not been allowing officials near the property. Work is getting delayed. Each day’s delay is proving to be more costly,” Chavan said.

According to the letter sent by Ajay Seth noted in May 2019 to the CSI, the land requirement was reduced from 4,480.573 sq. m to 3,797.271 sq. m.

“The BMRCL is constrained to initiate the process to acquire 3,797.271 sq. m of land in All Saint’s Church premises on a permanent basis that facilitates construction of the metro station,” the letter said.

“We remain hopeful that Bangalore Metro and the State Government will revisit its decision to dump its equipment and to drill the tunnel from within All Saints Church. There are clearly viable alternatives, involving far lower capital investment, which also eminently improve the utility of the metro for the wider public use. We, and several others, have already provided these suggestions in meetings with Mr Seth and his team. Yet, it is deeply distressing that Bangalore Metro is adamant about destroying our Church,” said Ebenezer Premkumar, a member of the association.

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