All in God's name!

Illegal religious structures have encroached upon Bangalores footpaths, streets and public spaces. The menace seems destined to stay, despite a Supre

This, despite a clear Supreme Court direction (issued on September 29, 2009) that the State Governments ought to stop the mushrooming of such encroachments. The apex court had asked the governments to frame a comprehensive policy in this regard, identify the unauthorised religious structures in public places, and make plans to remove or relocate these.

Bangalore’s exponential vehicular growth coupled with an acute paucity of wide roads has triggered traffic chaos of monumental proportions. Road-widening to address this issue has virtually spelled doom for the footpaths. The last thing the hapless pedestrians would want is a soft option on these encroachments, masquerading as godly structures!

Clearly, the Government wanted to convince the Supreme Court that it was serious about stopping the illegal structures’ menace. Affidavits were filed listing the number of such structures. According to Karnataka’s affidavit, there were 2,814 illegal structures across the State. Official records show that the Bangalore Urban district alone had 324 such temples, mosques and churches till December 7 last year, besides the 630 within the City. The numbers could be much higher if the current year’s statistics are added.
 
 But beyond the numbers, the Government or the civic agencies don’t appear to have a plan to remove the existing structures. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), at the behest of the SC and State Government directives, has begun mapping these illegal religious structures. Yet, the fact-finding is very unlikely to be
followed by demolitions.

Here’s why, as explained by the Palike Commissioner Siddaiah himself: It is quite impossible to remove these encroachments without flaring public emotions in a god-fearing country and city, says he. “While we can ensure that further illegal structures do not crop up in the City, the removal of the already constructed structures is a controversial topic,” he contends. 

Yet, there is room for optimism. For instance, Deputy Commissioner, Bangalore Urban, M K Aiyappa feels the Supreme Court directive could make the removal of these structures easier. “With co-operation from the citizens, the matter could be resolved,” says he.

The Urban DC, whose jurisidiction covers Anekal and Bangalore South, informs that the illegal temples, mosques and churches in these locations will be regularised and handed over to the Muzrai department. “Only those which have been constructed on the streets will be demolished and shifted out.”

Aiyappa cites the example of a temple in Anekal. After a detailed discussion with the local MLA, this temple -- which is right in the middle of a road -- is now being demolished and an alternative structure built inside a nearby temple complex.

But the question remains, whether this strategy could be replicated in the City
centre, where illegal religious structures of every hue have cropped up. On footpaths, streets and even civic amenity sites. While some are obscure structures which few
visit, others have a large following, as is apparent from the big crowds that throng these spots, leading to intense traffic chaos.

Strong-arm tactics to rid the City of these illegal structures could be an invitation to disaster, warn sceptics. It might be easier to handle the issue on the outskirts of the City, but the real test lies in the City’s core, they argue. 

The pressure from the Supreme Court and the public to act against the encroachments might be intense. But it is anybody’s guess how the Palike will handle the issue.

Indications are that the City would just have to live with the existing structures. It is learnt that at a recent BBMP meeting, the officials wanted almost all of the roadside and encroached religious structures to be legalised. The intention is clear: Circumvent the Supreme Court order to ensure there are no illegal structures.

The argument goes this way: If a scheme like Akrama-Sakrama could be devised to regularise unauthorised houses, why not something for the abodes of gods. Yet, the fact remains that regularisations would only be at the cost of the roads, footpaths, parks, playgrounds and other public spaces, all so crucial for the Bangalorean.

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