Historic Kotri church in court battle with squatter shops.<br>By Robin Fernandez. PCP.
28 Jul 2002
KOTRI: July 27. A historic church in the southern Pakistan town of Kotri is embroiled in a legal battle to save part of its property from squatters, a church official said on Friday. The Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1852 for employ
Fr. Ilyas Gill, a Franciscan priest posted at the Kotri church, said some construction workers approached him on 11 April 2002, and sought his permission to tear down a row of shops built in front of the church and then rebuild them. "I told them the shopkeeper himself must come and talk about the issue. They left the place, promising to return in two days time," Fr Ilyas recalled. When the church officials stopped the laborers from carrying out their work on April 13, the area councilor Amna Yousuf confronted them over their stance. "We explained to her that the shops were built illegally on church property but she (Amna Yousuf) was not ready to listen," he said. The laborers demolished all the shops but they were not allowed to rebuild them.
Years ago a French missionary, Father Francois, had allowed a man who lost an arm in an accident to sell goods on the church property, in an act of charity. "However, Fr. Francois did not grant him permission to squat on the land," Fr. Ilyas pointed out. Apparently the man sold his rights to the place to a brick kiln worker Amin, who later passed on the encroached piece of land to a shopkeeper, Safdar Ali Arain. Church officials say the encroached land is part of its car parking area. They also say the shops were an eyesore that attracted flies and soiled the beauty of the church surroundings.
In May, Arain produced before the session's court a set of ownership papers dating back to 1972. "The document is obviously fake. Our lawyer told the sessions judge that such papers can be forged in connivance with the municipality staff," Fr Ilyas said. "The shops aren't included in the survey map. Neither is there any mention of them in the city map," Fr Ilyas said, quoting his lawyer. Church officials say they have substantial evidence to disprove Safdar Ali Arain's ownership claims, though in the past month the town council too has become a complainant in the case. "We have documentary evidence proving our claims," Fr Ilyas said. He believes the lawsuit against the church would not have come so far without the aid of local officials.