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After a five-year legal battle with the City of Swan, the Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) group has finally won a bid to establish a spiritual centre in Western Australia.
Overturning the council’s decision, the State Administrative Tribunal last week approved the RSSB group’s proposal to build a ‘place of worship’ and ‘caretaker’s dwelling’ on land in the Swan Valley, in Perth region.
Michael Cooke, RSSB's head in Australia, a retired corporate lawyer from Perth told SBS Punjabi that the group is relieved and happy with the Tribunal’s decision.
“We bought the property back in 2014 to set up a small place of worship but the local council has opposed us throughout,” Mr Cooke told SBS Punjabi.
“I’m finally relieved and happy that the court has ruled in our favour,” he added.
The City of Swan last year knocked back RSSB’s proposal for the centre, despite local planning officers recommending it be approved, forcing the spiritual group to take their fight to the Tribunal.
In the meantime, the council also voted to ban any more places of worship in the Swan Valley in an attempt to protect the “rural ambience and character” of the region.
However, the Tribunal ruled in the group’s favour, stating their proposal was in line with the local planning objectives, but also laid down some strict operational conditions for the proposed centre.
The Tribunal ruled that the place of worship would only hold a service once a week every Sunday between 8 am and 12 pm for not more than a total of 11o persons.
In addition, the tribunal permitted the centre to hold a few annual events but said no more than 210 people could attend.
Council chief executive Mike Foley told WAtoday that it is not planning to appeal the decision.
“The city accepts the SAT’s decision and will continue to work with RSSB to ensure the final development is in keeping with the character of the Swan Valley,” Mr Foley told WAtoday.
Pradeep Raniga, a member of the RSSB group told SBS Punjabi that while they are happy with the outcome, the legal battle itself has cost them $80,000.
"The council has spent $62,000, we have shelled $80,000 but in the end what have we achieved? We're exactly where we would have been five years ago had the council not quashed our proposal," told Mr Raniga.
"The councils must be careful before taking such rash decisions and that's the message we'd like to send," he added.
This is not the group’s first win in Australia.
The RSSB had won a similar legal battle in 2017 when it had won a Supreme Court of Victoria appeal to construct a large place of worship on green wedge land in the south-eastern suburb of Carrum Downs in Melbourne.
Mr Cooke told SBS Punjabi that construction is underway on the 26.3 hectares of land in Melbourne.
“We have almost completed phase 1 of the construction in Carrum Downs and we’re hoping the place would be ready in the next two years,” said Mr Cooke.
“We already have a centre in Sydney, setting up one in Melbourne, and we have permission for a place of worship in Perth. Eventually, we’d like to get a place in every capital city in Australia,” he added.
What is RSSB?
Headquartered in India, the RSSB was established by a Guru in India in 1981 and claims to be a non-political group of spiritually dedicated people that encompasses all religions.
Followers of the group are encouraged to be vegetarian and abstain from alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.
The group has over 4 million followers and holds meetings in over 90 countries across the world, according to its website.