Janaki Fernandes / Mid-day
Mumbai, May 18: The BMC has quietly begun demolishing illegal shrines in Mumbai, and is treading carefully to avoid a repeat of what happened in Gujarat recently, when a shrine was demolished.
Municipal Commissioner Johny Joseph has said that preparing for the monsoons was the BMC’s priority, but ward officers said that they would simultaneously clear public land of illegal shrines.
“We want to avoid a Gujarat-like situation here. We are doing it along with the monsoon work, without any fanfare,” said a ward officer, who did not wish to be named.
Said another ward officer, “Plainclothes policemen accompany us on these demolition drives.”
The ward officers are using a circular sent by Additional Municipal Commissioner Vijaysinh Patankar in 2003, which lists 1,356 illegal shrines in the city.
The circular advises ward officers to take the priests, trustees, representatives and local residents into confidence before demolishing a shrine. “We are in also touch with local municipal councillors and political leaders,” said the officer.
The officials have also been told to check the date of construction of structures, as all shrines built before 1964 are considered legal. The officials have also been instructed to only demolish structures that hamper pedestrian or vehicular traffic and to not destroy any shrine before sunrise or after sunset.
“A holy picture on a wall or a small structure under a tree can be ignored. Only if it obstructs traffic or hampers pedestrian movement should it be removed,” said a ward officer.
The ward officials have been told to ensure idols are not damaged. They are to be handed over to responsible citizens who promise not to put them up again.
What? BMC demolishes illegal shrines
Where? All over Mumbai
Why? In compliance with high court order
And? Civic officers advised to make sure politicians, local residents and religious leaders are informed