The Economics Offenses Wing(EOW) has booked 5 Methodist Church priests for financial fraud in Madhya Pradesh. In a land deal, the accused priests are said to have caused a loss of Rs.7.62 crore to the state. The church had leased a part of government land but never paid the lease amount to the state. They had also illegally constructed a building on the government land.
On May 10, the EOW officials filed FIR against five former office bearers of the Methodist Church in Jabalpur MP. Free Press Journal reported that EOW officials received a complaint about misuse of government property and illegal construction of a building on the same incurring losses to the exchequer. Upon investigation, officials found that the plot of civil station numbers 4, 5, and 8/1 was illegally encroached by the Methodist Church of India.
Reports say that the church officials approached the Tehsildar for renewal of the lease agreement of two different plots in the year 2000. The then tehsildar of Ranjhi had recommended the renewal and asked the church to deposit the lease amount to the state coffer in 2004.
Based on the recommendation, the district collector of Jabalpur issued orders to register land lease documents and instructed to deposit the lease amount. The EOW found that the church officials did not pay the amount and register the lease documents. It led to a loss of Rs 7,62,16,432 to the state government. On top of it, the church constructed a building on the land.
The church priests cum ex-office bearers have been booked under sections 420 and 34 of IPC. Rev John R S Simon, the then District Superintendent of the Methodist Church of India Jabalpur, Manish Gideon, Executive Secretary, Methodist Church of India, M A Daniel, Bishop Methodist Church, Chapel road Hyderabad, Jabalpur, Ravi Kumar Prasad, Lay Leader, and Ericnath, Treasurer of Methodist Church in India, Methodist Church in India, Regional Conference Jabalpur have been booked by the EOW.
Despite owning large swathes of land thanks to the British, the church through its different denominations and greedy individuals continues to grab land from the government, temples, and innocent individuals. Members of a Hindu family in Chennai protested on their knees seeking to recover their ancestral property from a pastor who encroached on it to build a church after leasing it initially. In February a Syro Malankara bishop and 5 church priests were arrested in an illegal sand mining case in Tamil Nadu after encroaching riverbed properties illegally.
In Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvannamalai district a church has been built on a hilltop by encroaching 5 acres of forest land. Christian Revival Church in Arunachal Pradesh encroached on government land in Tawang district and built an illegal church. 2 pastors had encroached on the Hindu SC lBudaga Jangala Community’s land in Andhra Pradesh to build a church.
Another pastor from Kerala was arrested for encroaching government land in Jarkhand for church planting and forcing Sarna tribals to convert. This article shows how encroachment and land grabbing by the church have resulted in destroying urban public spaces and nature in Chennai.