Parishioners of Our Lady of Remedy Church in Kandivli want their dead to be left alone. On Monday, they staged a silent protest near the church against the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC) plan to take over a portion of its cemetery to widen the adjacent SV Road.
Sizing it up: Lawrence Fernandes, deanery counsellor for Bombay Catholic Sabha, shows the spot till where the BMC plans to acquire the cemetery. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
The church is a 400-year-old Grade II heritage structure, has a cemetery on its premises. Grade II heritage structures are local landmarks, which contribute to the image and identity of the region.
The Poisar church, as it is more popularly known, is flanked by a market, with the Poisar bus depot bang opposite it.
Simmering since '13
The protest was the culmination of three years of tussle between the church and the BMC. The civic body had in 2013 issued a public notice, stating that the regular line of SV Road had been changed and that it planned to widen the road to its original width of 90 ft. The BMC also sought to improve and widen a neighboring road, leading to the subway, belonging to the development plan department. Altogether, the church, a chawl and the market were to be affected. The BMC asked people to respond to the notice. After the church made a representation before the officials concerned, the matter went into cold storage.
Putting up a fight: Parishioners of Our Lady of Remedy Church in Kandivli take out a silent protest against the BMC’s acquisition plan.
The BMC picked up the issue again in February this year. It issued a notice to the church, along with other structures due to be affected by the road widening, under Section 299 (acquisition of open land or of land occupied by platforms within the regular line of a street) of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act. The notice, signed by Deputy Municipal Commissioner Ashok Khaire, states that a portion of the church — roughly 7 metres into its cemetery — is required for the widening work. Church trustees then wrote to the BMC on the issue, but when nothing worked, they carried out a silent protest.
"The reservation and the ensuing public notice itself is illegal," alleged Alfie Quinny, a trustee. "The regular line was changed in the BMC plans in May 2013, but the public notice was issued in July. They had decided to extend the regular line beforehand."
Fr Jon D'Souza, parish priest and trustee, demanded that the BMC ask other properties to give up their land, too. "The church has given away land for public use from time to time. If they want to widen this road, they should do so from both sides," he said.
Lawrence Fernandes, deanery counsellor for Bombay Catholic Sabha, said BMC's plan has hit a raw nerve. "The cemetery has the graves of our ancestors. It is a matter of religious sentiments. Besides, we have a cross here that will have to be moved. We plan to knock on court's doors."
Deputy Municipal Commissioner Ashok Khaire said the regular line was decided by the traffic and development plan departments, taking into account the traffic in the area. "The acquisition is for the widening of an important road. The MMC Act stipulates that the BMC can go ahead with the acquisition. As per the rules, the property owner will be given development rights in return." Khaire said the heritage committee has granted permission to move the cross. He said other properties, too, will be subjected to a similar acquisition process. Around 12 stalls in the market have been removed already. Officials undertook a demolition drive in the neighbouring chawl last Wednesday.