Even as the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum issued a press release stating that a church had been desecrated and demolished, in front of government officials, by members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in south Chhatisgarh, the district administration has denied any wrongdoing and said the building was erected illegally.

The release, however, said “no measurement of land was ever carried out by revenue officials” nor any notice “served to any of the aggrieved” prior to the demolition.

It said a group of VHP activists were “commanding administrative officials and police” while tearing down the ‘Divya Jyoti’ church used by Maria Gong tribals in Gadia village in Lohandiguda block in south Chhattisgarh.

The demolition, said to be carried out with a bulldozer, reportedly took place on March 13.

Denying the forum’s claims, Collector of Bastar P. Anbalagan told The Hindu that the church was built on government land and the administration has checked all the relevant documents before bringing it down.

“The land belonged to the government. There is a Supreme Court order that no religious structures can be brought up on the government land and so we had to bring it down,” said Mr. Anbalagan.

‘All facts were verified’

He said the ‘“disputed construction’” was creating “unnecessary trouble” in the area and the building was brought down on basis of “complaints by the locals”. He denied any involvement of VHP or any other political or religious outfit and said that “construction was brought down by the administration, after verifying all facts.”

The land allegedly belongs to local pastor Budhram Baghel. According to Mr. Baghel’s lawyer, a temporary structure was built on his client’s ancestral property in 2006. “It was for the local tribals, about 200 in number, to use as a prayer hall,” said Mr. Baghel’s lawyer on condition of anonymity. Later, in 2012, permission was granted by the Sarpanch of Gadia to build a permanent structure.

The Christian Forum release said that during the church’s construction earlier this month, local VHP activists filed a complaint with the Tehsildar of Lohandiguda that it was “taking place on government land” and sought that it be halted.

According to the release, the church was brought down by the VHP activists and local administration the very next day.

Locals manhandled, says Christian forum

“The local land revenue officer earlier certified that the land belonged to Mr. Baghel. We, on our part, also ensured that the church gets built on the premises of Mr. Baghel,” said the lawyer. When the local tribals, who used to pray at the church, objected to the demolition, they were “manhandled” by the VHP activists and the police refused to register their complaints, claimed Mr. Baghel’s lawyer.

Mass movement

However, General Secretary of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum Arun Pannalal told The Hindu that they also do not “support any illegal encroachment of land” and rather, believes such constructions should be demolished: “But for that a notice has to be served and people should be given time to recuperate.” According to Mr. Pannalal, no notice was served earlier. “But last night the tribals were called to the police station and hurriedly a notice, backdated to 08 March, was served. Mr. Baghel’s uncle was forced to sign on it in police station,” alleged Mr Pannalal.

The organisation was planning to initiate a mass movement. “We may also go to court,” said Mr. Pannalal.