The demolition of churches in Manipur without prior notice has led to the unfortunate loss of valuable properties and important records. This incident highlights the need for transparent procedures and raises concerns about religious freedom in the region.
Demolition of Churches in Tribal Colony, New Checkon, Imphal
The Evangelical Baptist Convention Church, Holy Spirit Church (Catholic), and the Peniel Church (MELC), which had stood tall in Tribal Colony, New Checkon, Imphal since 1974, 1990, and 1997 respectively, were demolished by the Government of Manipur in the early hours around 2:40 AM today.
Annulment of Manipur High Court’s Status Quo Order
Both the church buildings were demolished after the Manipur High Court on 4th April 2023 annulled the operation of the previous Manipur High Court status quo order that prevented the churches from being demolished.
Background: Supreme Court Directive and Manipur Government’s Policy
The annulment order against the interim orders was issued by the High Court of Manipur in 2023, following two separate miscellaneous cases filed by the State of Manipur. These cases sought permission for the State authorities to remove unauthorised religious structures from public streets, public parks, and other public places, in compliance with a 2009 order from the Supreme Court.
Opposition and Protest by Christian Organizations
In 2009, the Supreme Court directed the State to frame a policy in respect of unauthorised construction of religious nature, which had already taken place, in the case of Union of India v. State of Gujarat and others. In compliance with this directive, the Government of Manipur framed a policy called ‘The Manipur Policy for Review of Unauthorised Construction of Religious Nature on Public Parks, Public Places on 3rd April 2010. Through its compliance policy, the State Government had regularised 188 religious structures built in public places by issuing pattas, through the Revenue Department in 2011.
Demolition for Construction of Residential Quarters It may be mentioned that the 2009 Supreme Court direction allows the State to either remove, relocate, or regularise unauthorised constructions of religious nature. In 2021, The All-Manipur Christian Organisation (AMCO) and All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) came out in objection of the Government decision to evict the churches.
It is reported that, as the case is not disposed off in the High Court of Manipur, there was no apprehension that the church building would be demolished in the wee hours.
The demolition was carried out to clear the way for the construction of 392 new modern residential quarters, with an estimated cost of 50 crores funded by a loan from HUDCO.
Lack of Notice and Destruction of Church Properties
Local youth from the church reported that there was a social work programme on April 11 at 6:30 AM to vacate the church properties, but there was no proper notice served for the demolition. As a result, church properties and records worth lakhs of rupees and decades of hard work were destroyed. It is also reported that the pastor and caretaker’s phones were snatched away, and they were not given time even to retrieve their belongings from their quarters.
The demolition of the churches in Imphal without proper notice has resulted in significant losses and raised concerns about religious freedom. It highlights the need for a fair and transparent approach to dealing with unauthorized structures while respecting religious rights and promoting tolerance.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. Why were the churches demolished?
A: The churches were demolished to make way for the construction of new residential quarters to address housing needs in the area.
Q. What led to the annulment of the Manipur High Court’s status quo order?
A: The annulment of the status quo order was based on a writ petition and the court’s observation of the government’s unwillingness to regularize the church buildings.
Q. What was the Supreme Court directive regarding unauthorized religious constructions?
A: In 2009, the Supreme Court directed the states to formulate policies regarding unauthorized constructions of religious nature, allowing them to either remove, relocate, or regularize such structures.
Q. Did the government provide any notice or opportunity to retrieve belongings before the demolition?
A: According to local reports, there was no proper notice served for the demolition, and the church properties and records worth lakhs of rupees were destroyed. The pastor and caretaker’s phones were allegedly snatched away, and they were not given time to retrieve their belongings from their quarters.
Q. What were the reasons given for the demolition to make way for residential quarters?
A: The government stated that the demolition was necessary to construct new modern residential quarters to address housing needs and improve living conditions in the area. The construction project is funded by a loan from HUDCO.