By Matters India Reporter
Chikkamagaluru, April 7, 2019: A land sale controversy has landed another bishop in trouble in in India.
While Bishop Thomasappa Anthony Swamy of Chikamagalur claimed innocence, members of 46 parishes of the diocese in the southern Indian state of Karnataka accused him of irregularities in handling a land belonging to St Joseph Education Society.
They have demanded a probe against him and Fr A Shantharaj, a priest of the diocese, reports daijiword.com, a news portal published from Mangaluru.
The portal quoted undisclosed sources to say the parishioners have “strong piece of evidence” of the bishop and the priest misusing the diocesan funds and being directly involved in land scam and sale of pepper owned by the diocese.
However, the diocesan legal adviser V T Thomas has denied the allegations.
“The diocese has not sold out the land as was alleged. The land is still in the name of St Joseph Education society to which the bishop is the president and anyone can verify it from the government records,” Thomas told Matters India on April 8.
Thomas, however, said the diocese had planned to sell the land and authorized the former vicar general to identify a prospective buyer. The deal was abandoned as the diocese did not get the expected sum, he added.
Earlier on March 31, the parishioners and their leaders met at Catholic Club at Chikkamagaluru to demand a probe into the alleged scam.
Chikkamangaluru, formerly Chikamagalur, (literally, “the town of the younger daughter” in Kannada), is some 245 km northwest of Bengaluru, the state capital. This hilly region is the first place in India where coffee was planted in 1670.
Stanley D’Silva, one of the leaders, said the diocese owns a multi-crop estate at Baskal, some 25 km south of Chikkamagaluru. The diocese cultivated pepper there in 2016 and sold it.
He alleged the bishop and his close aides sold the produce at a higher price, but recorded a much lower amount in the diocesan books. When some lay leaders sought clarifications, the bishop and the priest failed to give “a convincing answer,” D’Silva alleged.
Another allegation is that the bishop had transferred the land of St Joseph Education Society to his name, converted it into six sites and sold them to private parties.
“A donor had donated this land to the diocese for the construction of a school for poor children in 1984. But now, the bishop has become the owner of this land and with forged documents and signatures,” the lay leader alleged.
The bishop is also accused of selling another land donated by another individual to build a hostel. The current value of this land is 180 million rupees, but the prelate reportedly claimed it was sold for only 21 million rupees.
“We suspect that there is a scam in this deal and the bishop has received a bigger amount under a secret agreement,” D’Silva alleged.
He also accused the bishop of being an autocrat who took decisions without consulting others.
“If this continues the same way, it will pave way for a riot within the community,” D’Silva warned.
Meanwhile a committee of lay leaders has been formed to investigate the allegations.
The committee has given two weeks for the bishop and the administration to respond. If they fail, members of the 46 parishes plan to march to the bishop’s residence. They have also decided to submit a memorandum to the government to probe the issue.