Thursday, January 8, 2009

Court upholds ruling on govt takeover of temple site

THE Court of Appeal has upheld a High Court judgment that the Government did not discriminate against a Buddhist temple when it acquired its land for the MRT’s new Circle Line.

The new ruling brings to a close a year-long battle initiated by three devotees of the Jin Long Si temple, off Bartley Road.

The trio - Ms Eng Foong Ho, Mr Hue Guan Koon and Ms Ang Beng Woon - had asserted the acquisition was unconstitutional.

They argued that it was discriminatory because two other religious institutions in the same area did not suffer the same fate. These are the Ramakrishna Mission and Bartley Christian Church.
Disagreeing, the Appeal Court judges said an executive act might be unconstitutional if it amounted to intentional and arbitrary discrimination.

In this case, the temple devotees had not alleged any arbitrary action on the part of the Government. They had also conceded that the acquisition proceeded in good faith, said Justice Andrew Phang, in a written ruling released on Monday.

The two other judges who heard the appeal in August were Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong and Justice V. K. Rajah.

Noting that the facts were plain, Justice Phang said the temple site lay at the corner of what was a substantial plot of state land.

‘Its amalgamation with the state land would not only appear reasonable but would also enable the entire plot of land to be developed in as optimal fashion as possible,’ he said.

By contrast, the site of the church did not offer any reasonable opportunity for amalgamation, he added, citing statements made in an affidavit by Urban Redevelopment Authority planner Eng Gim Hwee.

As for the Ramakrishna Mission’s site, on which three buildings stand, it was already under study for conservation before 2002.

It is clear, he said, that the Government arrived at its decision to acquire the temple site based ’solely on planning considerations’.

However, the Court of Appeal agreed with the temple devotees on two other points in their appeal, overturning the High Court ruling.

They had the right to initiate court action on this matter and there had not been an ‘inordinate’ delay on their part when proceeding with this case.

As a result, the temple devotees have to bear only half the costs. The other half will be borne by the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

The 66-year-old temple site was acquired as part of redevelopment plans linked to the building of the Circle Line’s Bartley station.

The temple was given five years - from its acquisition in 2003 till Jan31 last year - to relocate. It was in talks with the authorities about an alternative site but the move was postponed following the lawsuit.

Yesterday, a Law Ministry spokesman said the Singapore Land Authority would discuss with the temple trustees the relocation of the temple to their preferred site in Tai Seng Avenue in Paya Lebar.

‘The schedule for the move will be discussed with the temple trustees as there is a need to prepare the site for sale,’ she said.

Source : Straits Times - 8 Jan 2009

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