Not many people know it, but the church is the second largest land owner in India after Railways. Most of this is temple land confiscated by the British and handed over to various churches.
Panaji: Christians want state laws to govern assets of churches
Christians are a mere 2.5 per cent of the country’s population. But, the Church in India suffers from a case of plenty, says Remy Denis, All India Catholic Union President.
Church authorities control funds equivalent to the Indian Navy’s annual budget. The Church is also the second largest employer after the government, he said.
Eduardo Faleiro, a former Union minister and Goa NRI Commissioner, is among the growing number of Catholics like Prof Denis, who support a law to govern Church properties and a far greater degree of transparency in the way the Church manages its earthly assets.
“The Church is not a symbol of power but service, and democratic laws must apply to it equally. All religions must be kept on the same footing,” Faleiro said at a conference called to debate the matter of bringing Church properties under state laws.
The laws that govern Church properties in Goa were enacted during the Portuguese regime. The same laws have long since been repealed in Portugal, Faleiro said.
Almost all other religions in India have laws enacted to administer their properties, K T Thomas, former Supreme Court judge, said. Hindu temples are governed by laws specifically enacted for each trust and their accounts are subject to judicial review. The Sikhs, one of the smallest religious groups in the country, have the Sikh Gurudwara Act. Muslim trust properties comes under the Wakf Act.
“I feel the opposition from the Christians is on account of a fear that a provision for judicial scrutiny is likely to expose the expenses and magnitude of wealth of the denomination,” Thomas said. The head of the Believers Church had recently acquired a huge plantation in Kerala for Rs 123 crore. This was apart from the vast assets already held by the denomination, he said. The Church in Kerala also runs its own media network.
Thomas said there was a misplaced apprehension that the Parliament, through legislation, would grab the properties of the churches. No such law could be passed by Parliament or State legislatures, he said. All religious denominations have the right to own and acquire properties, establish and maintain religious institutions. “But, in matters of administration of your properties you have to abide by the law,” he said.