Former union tourism minister and Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala KJ Alphons has written to Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar and principal secretary to the state government (archaeology and museums department) Ashok Khemka, highlighting the “obstruction” created by a man named Shaukat Masih Bhatti at the Ambala Christian Cemetery on Jagadhari Road.
BJP parliamentarian Alphons’s letter dated November 12 also encloses a representation from the Cemetery Committee member Father Anthony of the Holy Redeemer Church in the city. It reads that Bhatti, allegedly a self-declared Anglican bishop, has taken custody of the burial ground and is denying access to the committee to maintain the heritage site.
“Obstruction is being caused by one Shaukat Masih Bhatti… He has locked the gate. His objective is to convert this into real estate, step by step. This is a war cemetery and government property. Since it is a national heritage (site) it must be protected and maintained properly…. the Cemetery Committee is constituted with the blessings of the government, kindly permit them to continue functioning, allowing persons to be buried there, and undertaking all maintenance work,” writes Alphons.
HT on November 18 highlighted how the burial ground was virtually in ruins as two parties battled over possession rights.
The site has graves of around 66 World War I (1914-1918) soldiers, 20 of Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) prisoners who fought in South Africa and those of a number of Britons from the pre-independence era.
Commenting on the matter, Khemka on Saturday said the letter was yet to be examined.
“Ownership and possession lies with two different bodies, but protection is with my department. Any kind of changes at the site can be done with the approval of the department. As stated in the letter, here the dispute is about the possession,” he said.
However, Bhatti hit out at the Alphons saying “he doesn’t know the Christian law” and reiterated his claim that he was the chairman of the committee.
“Seems like Mr Alphons is not aware of the constitution, which has recognised only two churches in India – the Church of England, known as the Anglican Church, and the Catholic Church, even after Independence. I’m affiliated with the Anglican Church. On the custody of the cemetery point, I’m the chairman of the committee and have full rights to deny entry to those who are using the body’s documents without my permission,” he said.
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