Law sought against illegal sale of Indian Church properties

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

November 28, 2023

By UCA News reporter

Inter-denominational body in Mumbai has launched online petition seeking an end to land scams involving church officials

A Christian body has launched an online campaign to mobilize support for enactment of a law to protect properties of the Indian Church, which is said to own the second-largest land bank after the nation’s government.

“We launched this online signature campaign after Church leaders of different established denominations continued to alienate Church properties illegally for their personal greed,” said Cyril Samuel Dara, a lawyer from Mumbai who is instrumental behind the move.

Dara is secretary of the inter-denominational Christian Reform United People Association (CRUPA) which launched the online petition on Nov. 24. It has so far generated more than 1,300 signatories.

He told UCA News on Nov. 28, that “our goal is to protect Church properties as a treasure for our future generations.”

CRUPA has members from the Catholic Church, the Church of North India (CNI), and the Methodist Church.

Church leaders have sold or leased valuable properties in many prime locations for peanuts without the knowledge and consent of believers, Dara observed.

“If this unbridled alienation of Church properties continues, our future generation will have no space left for practicing their faith,” Dara, a member of the CNI, said.

He said when they objected to the illegal selling of Church properties in western Maharashtra state that included India’s commercial capital Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the Church authorities were not ready to listen.

“That motivated us to submit a petition to the federal government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting it to enact a law to end the illegal selling or leasing of Church properties,” Dara said.

In 1927, the British passed the Indian Churches Act to promote Christianity across India. Lands were acquired to set up religious institutions and churches. When the British rule ended in 1947, these properties fell into the hands of the Indian Church.

“It is true that Church lands worth billions of Indian rupees, in prime locations in Mumbai and other parts of the country, are being sold out illegally,” said Melwyn Fernandes, a Catholic member of CRUPA.

Fernandes who is general secretary of the Association of Concerned Christians is actively involved in the efforts to protect Church properties in the Bombay archdiocese, which is led by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, a member of the influential Council of Cardinals.

“It is a serious issue. Unless we wake up now it will be too late,” he told UCA News.

Fernandes said they have gathered details of illegal church land deals in Maharashtra and are collecting similar data from other states.

We want a law to stop the illegal alienation of Christian properties, he added.

Since 2017, the Syro-Malabar Church, the largest Indian denomination, has been rocked by a land scam allegedly involving its head, Cardinal George Alencherry.

Alencherry is accused of illegally selling several parcels of land in the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly.

CRUPA is planning to file a public interest litigation before the top court in the country to prevent Church leaders from selling or leasing Church properties without the consent of the community.

The online campaign exhorts everyone to support the cause.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people, about 80 percent of whom are Hindus.