You Shall Not Steal! ‘Bishop is Encroaching Our Land’- Jeppu Residents tell Upa Lokayukta

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You Shall Not Steal! ‘Bishop is Encroaching Our Land’- Jeppu Residents tell Upa Lokayukta

At the Public Grievances Hearing and Redressal Meeting held at Zilla Panchayat Auditorium-Mangaluru by Subhash B Adi, Upa Lokayukta-2, Bengaluru, nearly 270 Christian -Convert residents of ‘St Joseph Nagar’-Jeppu, Mangaluru, and the surrounding areas, complained to the Upa Lokayukta alleging that the Bishop of Mangalore Diocese had encroached upon hundreds of acres in Jeppu and Attavar, where they had been residing. They alleged that the head of the Roman Catholic community in the diocese had been threatening them to vacate the place, among them, were Victor Pais and Valerian Texeira (who are RTI activists), have already received an eviction notice from the diocese lawyer.

Mangaluru: Three among the Ten Commandments in the Holy Bible clearly states, “You Shall Not Steal”; “You Shall Not Give False Testimony Against Your Neighbor.”; and “You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s House, Wife, or Property.” And even the faithful are used to listening to all these proverbs/quotes during Homily by the priest during mass, but in reality, seems like our Clergy don’t practice what they preach? In Bible, a proverb states- “For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul”. Similarly “If I had won that cabinet seat race I might well have gone on to “gain the whole world” and lost my own soul. And for that matter, the following story is one more example to match this Bible saying, “For what profits the Catholic Diocese/concerned people if they gain the whole few acres of Jeppu Compound property, but lose their own soul? “

Sunday, 28 January was a day that DK Zilla Panchayat Office/auditorium saw hundreds of people gathered to submit/air their various personal/civic complaints to the Upa Lokayukta-Hon’ble Subhash B Adi, during the “Public Grievances Hearing and Redressal Meeting” held from morning till late night. Prior to hearing the grievances from the people on various issues, the meeting was inaugurated by lighting the lamp by the Upa Lokayukta-2, Subhash B Adi, along with Shivappa B- Deputy Register of Enquiries, DC Sasikanth Senthil, CEO of Zilla Panchayat M R Ravi, Uma Prashanth -deputy police commissioner crime and traffic, Mangaluru city commissionerate; among others. DySP pf Local Lokayukta Jagadish, MCC Commissioner Mohammed Nazeer, City Crime Bureau ACP Valentine D’Souza; were among many, present in the audience.

Among the hundreds of complaints showed up for this grievance meeting, were nearly 200 plus Christian-convert residents of Jeppu Nagar, which fall under Jappinamogaru and Attavar Grama Panchayat, with their complaints alleging that the Bishop of Mangalore Diocese had encroached upon hundreds of acres in Jeppu and Attavar, where they had been residing. They alleged that the head of the Roman Catholic community in the diocese had been threatening them to vacate the place, among them, were Victor Pais and Valerian Texeira (who are RTI activists), have already received an eviction notice from the diocese lawyer.

As per their complaints to the Upa Lokayukta, the Jeppu residents led by Valerian Texeira, Victor Pais, Wilson Baptist, Enid Texeira and Cecilia Pais stated that the Bishop of Mangalore Diocese had encroached upon hundreds of acres in Jeppu and Attavar grama panchayat, where they had been residing. They alleged that the head of the Roman Catholic community in the diocese had been threatening them to vacate the place. “Our forefathers had been residing in the said areas for the past 130 years. We are all converts. We have been residing in survey numbers 601, 611, 612, 613, 614 and 719 granted to us by the government 130 years ago. However, Bishop of Mangalore diocese keeps asserting his right illegally over these properties. He has been demanding our ouster, once by demanding our signatures on the land agreements and once over the perpetual lease. He has also set up a multi-story building in the area,” said Valerian Texeira addressing the Upa Lokayukta; and also submitted several documents to establish their claim.

But unfortunately, the efforts of these complainants were in vain, since the Upa Lokayukta Justice Adi said, “At the moment I can’t help you out in this case. Since the Bishop is a person from a private party, we don’t deal with such cases. Our judicial wing is concerned with government officials. I would have gone forward with your case, provided you (complainants) had made the Revenue Officer or the Tahsildhar concerned a party to the case. However, considering the number of you residents involved in this case and having heard your petition, it appears that you have been residing in the property for several decades. Hence a report in this regard will be sought and necessary action will be taken to tackle the case”.

“It is only for considering as to whether the land acquired by you people is government land or whether you people have any right for the same or whether the district administration has any alternate provision to protect your interest without invading into the private rights of the Bishop. With this background, I will direct the Assistant Commissioner and Tahsildar to verify the clause related to the case and submit a preliminary report in 20 days,” added Justice Adi. In the meantime, in response, Fr William Menezes, PRO of the diocese, clarifying the allegations made by the residents said, “Why should the Bishop acquire their land? They have misused the land grant given to them. They have not abided by the agreement terms. As far as the allegation of setting up a multi-story complex is concerned, not even a single shop has been constructed in the said area. The allegations against the bishop are baseless,”.

A bevy of Jeppu residents who had attended the Grievance and Redressal Meet speaking to Team Mangalorean said, “We want an immediate withdrawal of the Eviction Notice served on Valerian Texeira and Victor Pais. The church should overcome its greed for land and property and instead of behaving like a ruthless landlord, harassing the poor and the hapless, should, in the true Christian spirit, practice love, charity, compassion and humanity. And in the event, the above demands are not met, we shall fight this injustice tooth and nail, until such time that justice is obtained. In this our just struggle, we seek the support of every justice-loving citizen – irrespective of caste, creed or religion”.

Apart from this case, there were other 107 cases that were heard by Upa Lokayukta Adi on that day which lasted for hours, from morning till late night. Most complaints from the people were related to the Revenue Department. Some cases that were pending for investigation at various courts were not taken up. In some cases, the respondents or the complainants or neither party showed up. Even the Bishop of Mangaluru was not present in the Jeppu land case during the grievance meeting. In many cases related to land issues, Justice Adi directed DC Sasikanth Senthil to follow up and take quick action in resolving such issues.

Upa Lokayukta Subash B Adi directed Deputy Commissioner S. Sasikanth Senthil to consider avenues for providing road connectivity to houses located on government land. “There are many residents suffering from lack of connectivity as the roads connecting their areas have to pass through private land. It was in Dakshina Kannada where there are more number of cases of allotment of house sites in areas that lacked access to the main road. These house sites can be reached by roads passing through private land.

“Roads passing through private land cannot be developed by the government,” he said, while expressing anguish over the Land Grant Committee headed by the local legislator not looking at the road connectivity issue while granting occupancy rights. Adi said that this while hearing a complaint by a resident of Bantwal about the construction of Sri Rama Vidyakendra in Bantwal on a road. The local Panchayat Development Officer said that he cannot do anything as the Vidyakendra was on the land belonging to the trust running the institution. There was another complaint by Vijaya Prabhu, a resident of Kavalamudur village in Bantwal, against fencing of a road passing through the property of Vasu Naika.

DC Senthil said that there were many houses in the district on government land that can be reached by roads passing through private land. He said that the district administration would consider the acquisition of a portion of private land to help solve the problem. It would also explore invoking easement rights of residents. Justice Adi gave DC Senthil one month time to submit a proposed action plan. Adi also directed the Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) from Kepu Gram Panchayat near Vittal to remove within a month’s time the bus shelter that has been illegally constructed off the National Highway passing through the village. He directed the PDO from Idkidu Gram Panchayat to take action against the illegal construction of a commercial building in the village.

The Upa Lokayukta also directed the Minor Irrigation Department executive engineer to conduct a spot inspection and submit the compliance report within four weeks on the repair or construction of the collapsed Kalayi-Nelligudde pathway at Kavalakatte, following a complaint by Ganesh Naik. Hearing a complaint filed by Krishna Suriya of Idkidu, Bantwal, Justice Adi said it is the duty of officials concerned to initiate stern action against those who construct illegal establishments on government land. In this case, the Upa Lokayukta told the Idkidu village panchayat development office to initiate action against the wrongdoers within 15 days or face action by the competent authority. Adi also observed that the assistant commissioner’s order in the case of Ananda, Balyarubettu, was not executed on time. He also expressed discomfiture over the procrastinating attitude by Bantwal tahsildar Purandar Hegde. He asked the Tahsildar why he took one year to refer action in the land regularization case (Akrama Sakrama) to the Land Grant Committee, even though the Tahsildar is the secretary of the Land Grant Committee.

Following are the statements were given by activist Valerian Texeira, a resident of Jeppu Compound-Mangaluru to Team Mangalorean, where he said :

“Around a hundred years ago, locals, mostly Hindus, belonging to the lesser castes and economically backward, were converted to Christianity by foreign Jesuits and rehabilitated in the ‘Jeppu Compound’ – an area of around 40 acres, around the Jeppu Seminary. St. Joseph’s Industrial Asylum Workshop (popularly known as the ‘Seminary Workshop’, which was also established to provide employment to the destitute converts – hence named ‘Asylum Workshop’.”

“In 1968, Jesuits transferred their responsibilities of these people and their properties, to the Diocese of Mangalore. Suddenly, there was a sea-change in the attitudes and motives of the rulers (the church), as against the service-zeal of the Jesuit missionaries, the Diocese of Mangalore began indulging in crass commercialization –Trees were felled, plots cleared and sold to outsiders (illegally); Walls were built across the age-old road used by the people of the ‘compound’ and huge chunks of land usurped by the managements of – (a) the Seminary, (b) the Workshop, and, (c) the Sisters of Charity; Scores of houses of the native settlers removed, rendering them homeless, and huge commercial buildings erected, fetching the Diocese, crores – without a paisa going to the converted natives – the real owners.”

“And all through the years, though the ‘Diocese’ has no proper records to claim ownership (this has been revealed and proved by a heap of information collected, in reply to our numerous queries filed under RTI) – it has exercised absolute authority by evicting original settlers, binding others with an illegal ‘Perpetual Lease Agreement’, closing down a school and the workshop and leasing out, selling and renting out huge properties for huge sums. In all this, both – (a) the natives (the converts), and (b) the new settlers who were cheated into buying plots, paying big sums of money, without proper records – feel lost and cheated. It will not be wrong to say the head of the Diocese is the biggest and the most oppressive landlord of Mangaluru – exercising authority over thousands of acres of land and owning properties worth hundreds of crores.”

“Now, the festering issue has reached a boiling point. Aware that a revolt is brewing and that the scams of the Diocese will finally be exposed, the Bishop, through the manager of the workshop, has issued ‘Eviction’ Notice to two natives.( Valerian Texeira and Victor Pais) They have been particularly targeted because they are the leading RTI activists of the compound and have gathered information of the land scams of the diocesan authorities, and have complained to the center, state and district authorities. Having suffered indignity for years on end, all under the garb of religion and religious authority, the residents of the Jeppu Compound (both natives and new settlers), unanimously say –“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

Note: Some of the contents incorporated in the above report pertaining to Jeppu residents are solely the statements made by Valerian Texeira and couple other Jeppu Compound residents- and are NOT those of the author.

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