01/16/2006, 00.00
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Church and orphanage torn down to make way for road construction

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Christ Mission Ashram has been torn down to allow road construction to the airport. "We have not been offered any alternative site for relocation. Where do we go from here?" church leader asks.

Kolkata (AsiaNews) – The Christ Mission Ashram, a church in south Calcutta, was torn down yesterday to make way for a new road. In addition to the Protestant church, the complex included an orphanage that was home to 30 children and 20 women.

The action followed a court order authorising the demolition to complete a project undertaken a decade ago that when completed will cut by half the time it takes to go from the city's airport to its southern outskirts.

Hundreds of members of the Protestant congregation tried to stop the demolition clashing with employees from the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA). Ten people, including some children, were hurt.

KMDA employees entered the mission at around 6 am through a rear gate and started tearing down the buildings. Woken by the noise, locals poured out of their homes and within minutes constituted a 100-strong group ready to take on the demolition brigade. The protest stopped the work for some minutes until police was able push away demonstrators. By 10 am the orphanage was no more.

Bishop Sukrit Roy, who was in charge of the Ashram, tried to prevent the demolition but to no avail—he was removed so that the workers could continue their work.

"We have not been offered any alternative site for relocation. Where do we go from here?" Rev Roy said.

The KMDA said that it has a rehabilitation plan for those who lose their homes but it disputes the Ashram's claim to ownership.

The Trinamool Youth Federation, which has an office nearby, tried to intervene, but could not save the church. When they started to protest, a large police contingent was immediately deployed to keep them away.

Pankaj Banerjee, who heads the Trinamool Congress, announced that that he would take up the matter with Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi.

Church authorities had already raised the issue with the Governor, the state's chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the Minority Commission.

"The Minority Commission had written back to us saying they would look into the matter," said Herod Mullick, general secretary of the Bangiya Krishtiya Parisheba, the umbrella organisation of Christians in the state. "Now they have done this."

"It's not that the demolition has come all of a sudden for Church authorities," explained Debdas Bhattacharya, chief engineer for KMDA's Traffic and Transport Department. "We had been in talks with them for some time."

"Last year, they [the Christians] filed several appeals seeking time. Then, Christmas came in the way. After the high court order, we didn't want to drag the issue any longer. The stretch, after all, has to be completed," he insisted.

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