A bishop and 5 other Catholic priests have been arrested by the Tamil Nadu CB-CID police in relation to an illegal sand mining case. The Syro-Malankara diocese of Pathanamthitta had leased the land in Tirunelveli, TN to a man who had illegally mined river sand on a large scale.
Samuel Mar Irenois, the bishop of Syro-Malaknkara diocese of Pathanamthitta in Kerala owns a 300 acre plot of land in the village of South Kallidaikurichi in Tirunelveli. The vast parcel of land is located adjacent to the vandal Odai check dam across the Thamirabarani river. The land was given on lease to one Manuel George, a resident of Kottayam. He had obtained a license for five years from the TN government for storing, processing and consuming rough stone, gravel, M-sand and crusher dust in November 2019.
But George had been illegally mining river sand from the Vandal Odai check dam and the nearby areas on a large scale. TNIE reported that the sub-collector of Cheranmahadevi had inspected the site in September 2020 and assessed that 27,774 cubic meters of river sand had been illegally mined and smuggled to Kerala. The Sub-Inspector of the local police station was found to have been colluding with George and aiding the illegal mining process.
Manuel George was arrested earlier and the sub-collector had fined him Rs.9.5 crore. One Sameer who was involved in the smuggling process was arrested and Sabeetha, a relative of Sameer who was the Assistant Director of the Minerals Department was transferred. 8 locals who aided the illegal mining and smuggling were also arrested.
Meanwhile, social activists had filed a PIL in the court seeking transfer of the case to CB-CID as the local police didn’t investigate it properly. The court had directed CB-CID to take over the case in July 2021. Now Bishop Irenios, Vicar-general Shaji Thomas Manikulam, 58, priests Jose Chamakala, George Samuel, 56, Jijo James, 37, and Jose Kalaviyal, 53 have been arrested. However Bishop Irenios and Jose Chamakala “fell ill” soon after they were arrested and admitted to the Tirunelveli Government Medical College Hospital.
Syro-Malankara church has released a statement saying they were in no way involved in the illegal activity and that the priests were arrested solely on the basis that they were owners of the land.