For the past two months, Dolphy D’Souza of the ‘Save our land committee’ in Malad has been busy engaging, educating and conducting workshops for the Catholic community in connection with the draft development plan (DP) 2034 released by the BMC. D’Souza has been studying the plans, talking to experts to understand the nuances and also filing RTI (Right to Information) pleas to get as many details as possible on the city’s blueprint for the next 20 years. According to D’Souza, the plan puts more than 50 churches in the city at risk with either the plots being marked under commercial zones or proposed road widening measures on the church plots. The committee, along with other NGOs such as Watchdog Foundation, have convened more than 20 meetings at various churches across the city and urged the Catholic community to voice their opinion against the plan.
In another corner, alarmed by the missing religious sites in the plan, the Muslim leaders also actively engaged people to alert them of the consequences of the DP. Rais Shaikh, a corporator from Samajwadi Party in the BMC, said the party had organised various workshops in slums and colleges to educate people on the matter. “After explaining the matter, we distribute letters with a common format for people to read and submit along with their signatures. It is essential to engage the community in large numbers to fight for various causes.”
D’Souza said, “Being a minority community, we have been vigilant. We have constantly organised ourselves, analysed urban policies, conducted seminars to save our religious sites and community areas. Since the DP released, we have taken up B R Ambedkar’s motto of ‘Educate, organise and agitate.”
While Sunday church chats are mainly on these matters, in various religious halls of other minority communities, the fear of losing their religious landmarks figures prominently in the daily conversations.
The Christian community, which has been at the forefront of criticising the blueprint, has objected to various plans, including gaothans and koliwadas, being marked as slums in the DP. Other objections include a road-widening measure proposed at St. Anne’s Church in Bandra, the St. Pius X in Mulund being marked as a commercial zone, several religious structures such as Mount Mary Church, St. Andrew;s and St. Peter’s Church in Bandra are missing from the blueprint. Godfrey Pimenta from the Watchdog Foundation says, “Historically the community has been quite active in the city because of factors such as education, awareness and the our organised communication. As service is a religious motto and the community strives to contribute for the benefit of others, we have been quite vocal about the issues.”
Pimenta has been conducting workshops and seminars across the city including areas such as Juhu, Borivali, Malad, Malvani, Marol, Bandra, Kalina and Mahim since the draft was released in February.
Catholics also formed several WhatsApp groups and have been active on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Some of the community leaders also said if the DP had not been scrapped by the Chief Minister, they were planning to take to the streets in protest against the authorities in a few days. The Muslim community has particularly objected to Haji Ali Dargah not being marked in the plan.
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