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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Demolition & take over of properties, temples targeted for Chennai Metro Rail project?

A Greater Chennai Corporation(GCC) notice announcing its intention to demolish a temple for metro rail project has gone viral on social media. Hindu activists called for a protest against the DMK government’s second hand methods to target temples. The protest sought to stop the demolition of two temples which are reportedly centuries old.

As part of a metro rail project and road extension project, the Greater Chennai Corporation had planned to demolish the Maha Kaliamman temple in Virugambakkam, Chennai. It issued a notice to the effect on December 19, saying that the Kaliamman temple located on the Kaliamman temple street is encroached by the temple trust to an extent of 60.80sq.m. It informed the GCC’s intention to demolish the “encroachment” as it affects the metro rail project and “causes inconvenience to the public” seeking police protection to aid the same.

The concerned temple appears to be under the control of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments(HRCE) Board to which the Corporation had issued a notice letting it know of the intention to demolish the temple. Locals and Hindu activists announced a protest against the decision. 

A flyer calling for people to participate in the protest says that the temple hasn’t encroached on any government property. It accuses the indifferent attitude of the authorities in not providing necessary documents that would prove that the temple isn’t an encroachment. It informs the public that the 500 year old Kaliamman and Sundara Varadaraja Perumal temples had documents to prove its ownership but they were recently changed by the authorities to show that they are encroaching unclaimed government land.

It is a long drawn issue as the GCC has been trying to take over the temple land by one way or another. In 2020, the issue went to court when GCC planned to take over the ponds and land of the Kaliamman temple and Sundara Varada Raja Perumal temple. The Perumal temple is 800 years old, with inscriptions to prove that it was built in the 12th century. Hindu activists had taken the issue to court as construction work around and above the temple as part of the metro rail project would affect the ancient temple. 

The petitioner in the aforementioned case alleged that the Chennai Metro Rail Limited had carried out Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) for Santhome Church, Rosary church and the Our Lady of Light Shrine while they didn’t do any such for centuries old temples.

At that time the Advocate General of the TN government had assured the court that the temples will not be disturbed in any way and only vacant land will be used for the metro rail project. But now the GCC has claimed that the temple is an encroachment. The Kaliamman temple is also believed to be centuries old. Yet the corporation has the audacity to claim that the temple has encroached government property.

Activists claim that both temples were recently (26-11-2022) inspected both the temples and certified that they are ancient. GCC had mentioned in its letter to the Deputy Commissioner of Police that it planned to demolish the Kaliamman temple on December 23, 2022. Hindus had announced a protest on the same day to thwart it. The Madras High Court has emphasized that temple properties should not be used for any purposes other than religious. Yet the government continues to disregard it, like in the case of the metro rail project.

It is unclear whether GCC went ahead with its plan to demolish the temple on December 23rd as no media reports or social media posts are available about it. The Perumal temple’s 10 acre land was only recently recovered from Muslim encroachment. The local jamat had forged documents with the help of corrupt officials and claimed ownership for the land. 

Due to persistent legal battle the district collector declared that it did not belong to Muslims, but the battle to retrieve the temple pond continues. There continues to be a “confusion” about who it belongs to, as the municipality claims it to be their property. With such a corrupt system and anti-Hindu establishment it would be a surprise if both temples and their properties are lost.

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