KARACHI: A fight has erupted over the land around St Andrew’s Church whose prime real estate is located in Saddar. One group backed by an MPA claims that a bishop wants to construct shops. The bishop has turned around and accused the MPA of plotting to sell the land and to pocket the proceeds.
The plot, measuring 13,723 square yards, is located opposite Jehangir Masjid and thus there is ample space around the church for anyone to develop.
The church was built in 1868 by a Scottish mission. It merged with the Church of Pakistan in 1970 when Protestant churches across the country united. Four denominations came together: Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian (Scottish) from four dioceses.
On Wednesday, the president of St Andrews Church Youth Fellowship, Henry Kamran, its general secretary Junaid Ian, and others met MPA Saleem Khurshid Khokhar. The MPA is the chairman of the Sindh Assembly’s standing committee on minorities affairs.
They said, according to a press release, from the MPA, Rt Rev Sadiq Daniel, who is the Bishop of the Karachi Diocese for the Church of Pakistan, wants to take over the land. They said he had publicly revealed and announced at their Diocesan Council on October 11 and 12 at the Holy Trinity Cathedral that he would be building shops in and around St Andrews Church.
The delegation told Khokhar that the open land around the church had been regularly used for the Annual Karachi Convention where prayer services were conducted, but for the last few years it was discontinued. They said the bishop did this deliberately so that he could work towards commercialising the land. This claim was backed by Alberdeen, the secretary of the church, who told The Express Tribune that the community was sure that the bishop deliberately discontinued the annual prayer convention to show that the land was not being used.
Another member Griffin Naz pitched in to say that their religion forbids any commercial activity inside God’s house. “We fear that if they bring outsiders inside the boundaries of the church it may result in the desecration of our place of worship,” he said. “Even if it is a housing complex or society they would play music, throw garbage etc. which would undermine the sanctity of the sacred place.”
The delegation was assured by the MPA that the government would not allow any construction on church land.
This is not the first time MPA Khokhar has taken up this case. He referred it to a watchdog committee in April. The Sindh Assembly’s standing committee that keeps an eye on the Board of Revenue took it to task over shops and markets that sprung up on the land after the paperwork was changed. The committee said that the land records had been changed under political influence.
For his part, however, Bishop Daniel did not deny his plans for development on the land. But he claimed that MPA Khokhar and his supporters were scheming to take control of the land and later sell it off.
“If I take the land, whatever money is made will go to the council and will thus be used for the community only,” he told The Express Tribune. “But if these people get control they will sell it and divide the money amongst themselves.” He alleged that the MPA has contacts in the government and could forge documents to show that the property is independent.
Bishop Daniel argues that as the chairman of the Karachi Diocese for the Church of Pakistan, he has the authority over the land and that he is doing nothing illegal.
To counter the bishop’s claims, church secretary Alberdeen argued that when the churches merged it was made clear that they were only uniting but their properties would remain in the name of the original owners. He provided a copy of the agreement signed by all eight Protestant bishops of Pakistan on October 30, 2004. It says that no bishop or diocesan authority can challenge the status and legality of the property holders. Clause B of the agreement said that the Bishop of Karachi has all administrative powers.
To add to the confusion, the person who has the power of attorney for the Presbyterian Church, lives in England.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2011.