(Eds: Updating with quotes from Church spokesman) Munnar/Kottayam, Apr 20 (PTI) A 30-feet tall metal cross was pulled down today as part of an official anti-encroachment drive in the hill station of Munnar here with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressing strong displeasure over the act.
Vijayan said the government’s “displeasure” has already been conveyed to the Idukki district administration.
“The steps taken by the district administration have resulted in some misunderstanding. A cross which was there was destroyed as part of an anti-encroachment drive,” Vijayan said at a function in Kottayam tonight.
The government viewed the matter “very seriously,” he said.
Reacting cautiously to the incident, Syro Malabar Church spokesman Fr Jimmy Poochakkatt said that there was no issue in removing a cross erected in an encroached land but questioned the manner in which it was demolished.
“Cross is a very important holy symbol in Christian faith. We have reservations in the manner in which it was demolished,” he said.
“At the same time we are of the opinion that any such symbol –whether it is religious or political –situated on an encroached land should be removed,” Poochakkatt said.
He also said the government should take steps to see that the anti-encroachment drive in Munnar is not stopped in the name of such incidents.
“Some people try to rake up religious sentiments to sabotage such moves by the government. Authorities should be beware of such forces,” the priest said.
The cross, set up under the garb of ‘spiritual tourism’ atop a hilly area, was brought down with the help of earth movers this morning, officials said.
It was set up on a 30-acre piece of land allegedly encroached by a group of people calling itself ‘Spirit of Jesus,’ they said.
Besides the cross, some thatched sheds and a prayer hall too were also demolished, they added.
Prohibitory orders were clamped in the area before the officials began dismantling the cross.
Road blocks were created by some people by leaving cars on the narrow road leading to the location of the cross.
The ruling CPI-M Idukki district secretary K K Jayachandran expressed unhappiness over the removal of the cross and criticised the district collector and Devikulam sub-collector for taking the action.
The cross was set up for the faithful to offer worship, he said, adding there was no need to remove it.
KPCC President M M Hassan welcomed the action, saying all encroachments needed to be removed.
The local Congress leadership, however, opined that the cross should not have been removed first while there were other encroachments nearby.
Munnar, situated about 1600 metres above the sea level, was once the summer resort of the erstwhile British government in South India.
Sprawling tea plantations, picture-book towns, winding lanes and holiday facilities make Munnar a favourite town for the tourists.
It has of late become a hunting ground for encroachers as well.
Munnar also has the highest peak in South India, Anamudi, towering over 2,695 metres, which is an ideal spot for trekking.
Meanwhile, an expert committee of environmentalists and social activists set up by the BJP in Kerala has warned of serious consequences if encroachments were not stopped in ecologically sensitive Munnar.
“Munnar was turning into a graveyard due to construction of resorts on alleged encroached government lands,” the committee members said after visiting the tourist spot.
The committee said authorities should be vigilant to put a stop to “use of religious symbols” for encroachments.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.