All Saints Church is to celebrate its sesquicentennial anniversary this year. That means the church is 150 years old. Clearly, this is an occasion to celebrate: for the congregation, and the entire city. For a church that was built entirely by public donations, and in the past century and half, it has also been the epicenter of the evolution of a range of public institutions, including a special school called Arpana, the congregation may worship Christianity, but its efforts have been syncretic and catholic.
That this beautiful church, whose architectural styles and stability of the structure – built with stone masonry and no deep foundations – draw awe from architects and cultural aficionados, it is shocking to note that the church is proposed to be a site for a metro station. As charitable compensation perhaps, the Bangalore Metro engineers have deigned to not tear down the church; but they certainly want to tear down everything else in the church campus.
The problem with this proposal is that it is patently illegal. Besides, it will destroy one of the most charming gardens that remains in central Bengaluru, for the congregation has over decades nurtured over 150 trees, and some are older than the church. These trees constitute a major biodiversity hotspot in an highly urbanized and densely crowded part of Bengaluru. On a hot day if one steps off the super busy Vellara junction (as the intersection of Richmond Road and Hosur Road is popularly called), and into the church compound, the peace consumes you and you are transported into an heavenly place – literally.
So why would we want to turn ‘heaven’ into a messy railway station – say like Banashankari? It is because Namma Metro wants to. And they won’t explain why. If you review the Detailed Project Report on the basis of which Phase II of the Metro is being built, and the north-south reach has a proposed stop at Vellara junction, the text and maps clearly indicate it is underground and under the Hosur Road and the abandoned Senior Police Officers apartments. As the Karnataka High Court held in Environment Support Group vs. BMRCL and ors. (WP 13241/2009), the alignments proposed in this DPR needed first to be confirmed as part of the city plan, and only then could Metro build this reach. In case of violation, the Court warned it would take action against officers involved. The metro has not sought permission for change of existing land use, per the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, as directed by the Principal Bench of the Karnataka High Court.
Of course, Namma Metro has not done that. Just as in Phase I, when it violated land use aplenty, in Phase II too the agency has chosen to build in absolute variance to its own proposals. In a secretive deal with the Church of South India (CSI) leadership, which is a custodian of All Saints Church, Namma Metro purchased land on which famous Fatima’s Bakery and a petrol bunk stood for decades. Interestingly, this land is not at all required as per the DPR. Moreover, Metro has chosen to gallop into the abutting All Saints Church campus and swallow the entire sacred grove where people offer mass every Sunday.
The problem is that the land does not belong to Church of South India at all, the Defense Estate Officer of Indian Military has argued. And proceeded to file a criminal complaint against leaders of CSI on grounds of fraud. The question that arises is how Bangalore Metro has paid Rs. 60 crore for the Fatima’s Bakery part of the church area, and that without checking who the real owner is? Defense Ministry has claimed that it had leased the land for the building of All Saints Church in 1860s, and clearly has had no problem as long as the church survives. But the military is surely troubled deeply that this land is being traded away for a monetary compensation.
On August 26th this year, the Supreme Court in Vinayak House Building Cooperative Society Ltd vs. State of Karnataka, has bemoaned how the “garden city” now witnesses “the invasion of concrete and steel, of soot and smoke, of high rise and the fast buck. Gone are the flowers, gone are the trees, gone are the avenues. It would most certainly be an historic and legally appropriate decision if the Chief Minister of Karnataka would stop this mayhem from taking place. Not only would this decision be regarded globally, it would also provide him the opportunity to invite the President and Prime Minister of India to celebrate the 150th anniversary of All Saints Church, and with all the needed pomp and glory. There are viable alternatives to build a station at the Vellara junction, and if the Metro engineers need help, there are several extremely quality architects and engineers who will assist them.
The author of this article works with Environment Support Group and has been a fellow-campaigner to save AllSaints Church as ‘living heritage’ of Bengaluru for posterity....