IDUKKI: A day after a right-wing Hindu group installed a trident (Trishul) atop the Panchalimedu hills near Kuttikkanam, protesting against the alleged attempt by the Church to encroach upon revenue land, the Idukki district administration has served notices on both the church and the managers of a temple on the disputed land.
The Revenue Department officials served notice on St Mary’s church functioning at Kanayankavayal in Idukki to remove around 14 crosses, which the church claimed was installed 65 years ago. It is learnt the administration decided to issue a notice to the church as more crosses were reportedly being installed on the revenue land since last Good Friday.
Meanwhile, revenue officials said the church was asked to remove only the new wooden crosses put up by them since last Good Friday.
A group led by Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP) national secretary Pratheesh Viswanath had installed a trident at Panchalimedu on Friday alleging the church was trying to encroach upon revenue land, which was part of the 18 sacred hills of Lord Ayyappa. Meanwhile, Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar claimed the board owned 269 acres at Panchalimedu, which they lost over a period of time.
“The Bhuvaneshwari Devi temple at Panchalimedu is the original location (Moolakshetram) of Valliyangattu temple. Only remnants of the temple are left at the place. We had 269 acres at Panchalimedu which we lost over a period of time. I had submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister to initiate steps to recover the land. There are some issues at the place. But the board and the government had been making arrangements for Sabarimala pilgrims to view Makaravilakku from Panchalimedu every year. We have plans to retrieve the land and restore the temple,” he told Express.
The crosses were installed by the church atop the hill at Panchalimedu in 1954 for conducting the ‘Way of the Cross’ procession on Good Fridays. “As many as 14 crosses were installed on around 50 acres of revenue land in Panchalimedu since 1954,” said M P Vinodh, Idukki RDO.
“The department served the notice as per the instruction from the district collector on Friday to remove the crosses from the revenue land,” he said.
Vinodh added that apart from the crosses installed by the church on the government land, a temple dedicated to Bhuvaneshwari was also built near to it on the same revenue land “A demolition notice will be served on the temple authorities soon,” he said.
Vinodh said the church will be given a statutory time, may be 15 days or more, to remove the crosses. If the church fails to act, the department will initiate steps to remove it.
“Panchalimedu is an important camping spot for pilgrims during Makaravilakku and is an ecological sensitive spot in the district. On Makara Sankranthi day, thousands of devotees camp here to witness Makaravilakku and the district administration spends huge amounts to facilitate pilgrims,” he said
Removing encroachments on government land is necessary for the effective facilitation of security arrangements during the time. “The crosses and the temple will be demolished with support from the temple and church authorities and if they are not willing, the department will take action,” he said.
“There are not just 14, but hundreds of crosses at Panchalimedu. We have obtained all official records regarding the ownership of land and will file a writ petition before the Kerala High Court for removal of encroachments,” Pratheesh told Express.
Meanwhile, St Mary’s church Vicar Fr James told Express they had installed the crosses in 1954, when the whole land at Panchalimedu was held by two families in the high ranges - Kallivayalil and Karimbanal.
“However, when the government passed the Land Reforms Act in 1963, the land was taken over by the Revenue Department. The crosses still remain there and the parishioners have been offering prayers at the cross on all Good Fridays for the past 65 years,” he said.
Fr James said so far there have been no issues from the part of the authorities in offering prayers there and installing crosses. “We don’t know how the issue has flared up suddenly,” he said.
Fr James said the church has replied to the authorities concerned. However, he refused to disclose the details. “People have been offering prayers here for years and it is not the church’s responsibility to demolish the crosses,” he said.