The recent demolition of a cow shelter on a disputed land in Mangaluru for the acquisition of property for India’s first Coast Guard Academy, has created a rift in right-wing circles, pitting BJP supporters against the government and party leaders.
In the first week of March, the district administration which claims the land belongs to the government, demolished the ‘goshala’ (cow shelter) as well as a factory located on the premises. But people who run the cow shelter claim the land belongs to them and insist they have records to prove it. They say the government should have taken the legal route and challenged it in court instead of demolishing the shelter. The district administration, however, says the goshala was built on encroached land.
Several round of talks and intervention by MLAs, MPs and central leaders to resolve the dispute and facilitate the construction of the proposed academy for the past several months have yielded no results. The district administration finally demolished the structure with the help of police even though several MPs and MLAs were against the project.
The dispute came close on the heels of the government passing the anti-cow slaughter bill, which it said was done in the interest of cow protection. At this juncture, the demolition of the cow shelter by authorities came under scrutiny with the party supporters blaming the leaders for not standing up to the ‘true cause of Hindutva’.
Prakash Shetty, trustee of Kapila Park Goshala claims of taking care of nearly 300 cows including 103 rare breeds of native Kapila cows, says the BJP leaders who garnered votes in the name of cow protection have now betrayed them.
Shetty claims that there were two properties—one spread on 19 cents (0.9 acres ) in which they ran an interlock (block) manufacturing unit and the permission to which was granted by the same administration; and another property of 18 cents of land, where they ran the cow shelter out of the profits from the factory.
“The government claimed it’s their land, but they could have challenged it in the court instead of hurriedly demolishing the buildings,” Shetty said. He claimed he spent nearly ₹2 lakh every month to take care of the land, the money for which was completely funded by him and not through any government funds or donations.
Shetty claims that he reached out to Dakshina Kannada BJP Member of Parliament Nalin Kumar Kateel, and MLA Umakanth Kotian and sought their intervention to stop the demolition. However, he says the MP promised him something and directed the district administration to remove the structure to make way for the academy project. And Kotian in turn accused him of selling the cows to butchers.
“I had given them three options—either to take care of the cows, allocate alternative land for the shelter or to build a shelter and give it to us. They agreed to none of these and demolished the structure with the help of police, leaving the cows on road,” Shetty said.
When BJP leaders couldn’t help, Shetty approached people like Menaka Gandhi, BJP MP and animal rights activist and seers of powerful temple mutts including the Pejavar seer to mediate and help. “But they were all so helpless,” he says.
“I find that even Hindu religious leaders are helpless and unable to raise their voice as they fear they would be cornered of they go against the wishes of the ruling class,” Shetty said.
Even RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat called Shetty a “butcher” and “seller of cows”. Following this, Vande Matarama Gau Samraksha Samithi took out a protest in Mangaluru condemning his statement and sought the district administration to rebuild the space for cows.
Rajendra KV, district commissioner of Dakshina Kannada district says the party which sold the land to Shetty had already sold the land to Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board.
“Shetty was aware of this and yet purchased the land and encroached upon it. Some government officials had given permission for the same, which we are investigating,” Rajendra said.
Rajendra said the central government project is a golden opportunity for the district and the administration could not say no to the project considering the opportunities it would bring to locals. “I cannot entertain people claiming to protect cows and encroach upon government lands. If I do so, it would be difficult for me to demolish any illegal structure in the future,” Rajendra said.
“The trustee is spreading misinformation. We had given him enough time to vacate the land and were willing to give alternative space. But he (Shetty) was hell-bent on this land as it was a riverfront land,” the DC told The Federal.