(Vatican Radio) The civic body of Mumbai in western India pulled down a cross in a suburb on Saturday, drawing sharp reactions from Catholic officials and the faithful. Not long after officials of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the civic body that governs Mumbai, the capital city of Maharashtra state, pulled down a cross near Bazar Road in Bandra on April 29, local Catholics put up a a makeshift cross to “reassure” the community. A group staged a protest outside Bandra police station demanding action against the BMC officials for hurting religious sentiments. The Archdiocese of Bombay plans to go to court against the demolition. Catholics say the demolished cross was on private land and was erected 122 years ago. “It has religious and historical significance,” said archdiocesan spokesperson Father Nigel Barrett in a statement on April 30. He said the tearing down of the cross without following due process has disturbed the Catholic community. “This is gross misuse of authority and the archdiocese, in collaboration with various representative bodies, will legally pursue the matter,” the archdiocesan official added.
The removal of the cross was part of the directive of Bombay High Court asking BMC to demolish all illegal religious structures that have come up after September 29, 2009. As many as 32 temples and 6 crosses from H west ward were deemed against the Development Plan of the city. However, Rita D'sa of Bombay Catholic Sabha contends that the cross was erected in 1895 or so and the BMC action amounts to insulting the religion. "This PIL (public interest litigation) only relates to religious structures on public property. The notice issued has no application to the said Holy Cross since it was constructed on a private property," D'sa claimed.
Fr. Barrett explained that on April 3 after BMC explained to the local community about the cross being illegal on a public road, the community representatives presented their legal position and were asked to submit their statements in writing. On April 26, assistant municipal commissioner Sharad Ughade sent a notice to the church people regarding the cross. Fr. Barrett said, “the notice was invalid with respect to the cross demolished, as it was on private property.” “The owner and community organizations had replied in time to the notice and had even met Ughade with documentary evidence, including a revenue plan and property card. The legal position was explained very clearly to Ughade with supporting documents,” the priest explained. “We hope BMC will take cognizance of this and initiate appropriate action,” Father Barret said.
According to Rita D’Sa, "All the notices were responded to by us." "They have confused it with the illegal ones," said Godfrey Pimenta, adding " this Cross didn't feature in the list of illegal ones.” An officer from Bandra police station said they have received an application regarding the matter and if required would register a complaint against the responsible person(s).
Ashish Shelar, who represents the area in the state legislative assembly, has called a meeting of all affected parties, on May 2. “Since BMC’s action is based on an HC order, we will verify all facts. We will peruse the list and examine if the caretakers had received a BMC notice, if they have replied to it, and if their response is being considered by the civic authorities. If BMC is unable to consider their plea, they should get an opportunity to present their case before the HC. For that they require time,” Shelar said.