Church gutted in City, foul play suspected

Church gutted in City, foul play suspected

A substantial part of St Sebastian’s Church in Dilshad Garden here was destroyed in a major fire on Monday morning. 

It is alleged that miscreants intentionally set the church on fire as there was a distinct kerosene smell, but the police say they are also probing short-circuit as a possible reason behind the blaze.

Apart from severe structural damage, the church authorities estimated the fire to have caused a loss of nearly Rs 1.25 crore. The incident was reported by the security guard around 6:30 am.

“The fire department responded around 7:30 am and the police did not reach the spot before 9 am,” Delhi Catholic Archdiocese spokesperson Savarimuthu Sankar told Deccan Herald. The fire department, however, said they received a call at 7:26 am. Four fire tenders brought the blaze under control by 8:30 am.

“Samples have been picked up from the spot by the fire department and a forensic science team,” said Additional DCP (North East) Rajendra Singh Sagar. 

The church authorities said a security guard is always on duty and he had gone for breakfast when the fire broke out. One William Warsi was on night shift and he handed over the church keys to morning shift security guard Peter around 5 am. 

Peter went for breakfast at 6 am and returned around 6:30 am. He noticed a thick plume of smoke and informed the pastor Antony Francis, who then called the fire department.

Sankar added that they found kerosene in the church’s attic and suspect that someone used inflammable material to set the church on fire. 

“A natural fire would not be like this, the smell of kerosene was still strong even after four hours,” he said. Other religious leaders of the community termed the incident the handiwork of anti-social elements. 

“All the furniture, literature, church material and electrical items have been burnt. The damage to the contents inside the church is estimated to be more than Rs 1.25 crore. It is apparent that this damage has been caused intentionally,” the complaint stated.

A case of mischief by fire or explosive substance under section 436 of the Indian Penal Code has been registered with GTB Enclave police station. 

Hundreds of people later assembled outside the church and prayed for peace and communal harmony. They also went to GTB Enclave police station and alleged slackness by the police in dealing with the case. 

The church was opened in 2001 and belongs to the Delhi Latin Rite archdiocese, but also serves as worship place for the Syro-Malabar Catholics. Shahdara BJP MLA, Jitender Singh Shunty, visited the church and stated that it appeared to be a deliberate act. 

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