Punjab govt fails to list 174-year-old church as protected monument

  • Anshu Seth, Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
  • Updated: Oct 19, 2014 08:36 IST

Even after 10 months, the Punjab government has failed to act on the application for bringing 174-year-old Christ Church at Fountain Chowk here on the list of protected monuments in the state, which will only help the land mafia eyeing the property.

In January, senior members of the Christian community of Ludhiana had taken a request to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to declare the church a heritage site under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The Church authorities have no reply from the CM office or the ministry of cultural affairs, so far.

Church priest Pankaj Malik and his wife, Pamela, have said that Christ Church in Hoshiarpur, which is as old as the Ludhiana cathedral, was declared a heritage building in 2008, and now is a protected site of the ASI.

Threat from land mafia

Owing to its prime location, the church is on the land mafia target for the past two decades. Having fought a lone battle against land grabbers, Malik and Pamela now are running from pillar to post to save the property. The mafia, which has political patronage, created repeated law and order problems to disrupt the Sunday prayers, following which, the police closed the church in June 2013.

The 2.16-acre property of the church is worth crores of rupees. On April 3, 2013, a first-information report (FIR) was lodged against five people (Gaurav Gill, Prem, Neeru, Wilson, and Christina) about an assault on Malik. Instead of giving protection to the priest, the police closed the church.

Main accused Gaurav lives at Salem Tabri and accused Wilson at Manjit Nagar here, while the other three are illegal occupants of the servant quarters of the church. They are charged with causing disruptions that got the church closed.

Having pleaded before the-then police commissioner Paramjit Singh Gill, priest Malik in January met chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who asked the police commissioner to do the needful. However, even the special investigating team (SIT) report in favour of the priest has failed to restore the church service. The SIT was led by the-then additional deputy commission of police-1 Neelambari Jagdale, present deputy commissioner of police, Ludhiana.

On October 10, a fresh FIR was registered under Sections 380 (theft), 447 (criminal trespass), 448 (punishment for house tresspass), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 148 (armed riot), and 149 (unlawful assembly with common intent) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against six accused but none has been arrested. The earlier case was registered under Sections 406 (punishment for criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating), 427 (mischief causing a petty amount of damage), and 120-B (punishment for criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.

Asked about the delay in arrest, DCP Neelambari Jagdale said: "We have to abide by the procedure, wherein the accused are given a chance to come forward for arrest. If they do not, we will get permission from the magistrate to arrest them."

Priest house turned into SSP residence

Almost four decades ago, the priest house, a church property, was converted into the residence of the senior superintendent of police (SSP) and police commissioner.

The church is a property of the union government by the Government of India notification of 1965 that states that after Independence, the ownership rights of the churches went to the central government from the British crown.

"The state government is required to check whether or not in revenue record the old churches are shown as the property of the central government; and take steps to have the records revised," reads the notification.

SOI benchmark

Under a project in 1904, the Survey of India (SOI) had built a benchmark block in the church for measuring the mean water level in the area, as the site was ideal. The recording stations are a set of stable benchmarks in locations where the water level does not change. This is to help construction work in the adjoining areas.

When contacted, principal secretary for cultural affairs Raji P Srivastava said she had not received any representation from the church, so far, but would call up the church authorities to get the details. "It is our duty to save national heritage, she said, adding: "The department will make sure that the church gets the protected monument status."

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