By Anju Agnihotri Chaba
Jalandhar, April 8, 2019: A series of events that began unfolding in the night of March 29 has put a spotlight on the private businesses being run by some priests of the Jalandhar Catholic diocese.
That night, a team of Khanna police claimed to have recovered 96.6 million rupees “unaccounted hawala (black) money” during a raid at the residence of a priest of the diocese.
The priest, Father Anthony Madassery, however leveled a counter-allegation and accused the policemen of embezzling 66.5 million rupees by showing that only 96.6 million has been recovered. He claimed that the police forcibly took away 166.5 million that he had earned from the sale of books via a company that he runs.
The diocese came out in support of Father Madassery and even the bishop confirmed that the priest had taken due permission before starting the book sale business. As the police and the Church probe the allegations and the counter-allegations, one thing that has grabbed the attention of the masses is the slew of businesses that the priests are running.
In last 10 years, at least 15 private companies in the form of partnership, proprietorship, enterprises, non-banking financial company, NGO, and a TV channel have been set up by eight to nine priests based in Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Amritsar. The total annual turnover of these companies is pegged at 500-600 million rupees.
While the new generation of priests has no problems with this trend, the old school of thought feels that it is been converting the Church into a combination of ‘religion and business’ affecting its ‘religious and social’ image.
Going by the records of Jalandhar diocese, the first seeds of a business were sown with the setting up of an NGO – Navjeevan (new life) Charitable Society. The society was registered on June 16, 2008, under the Societies Registration Act (XXI of 1860). The idea of setting up the NGO was mooted by Father Madassery with objectives such as skill development, women empowerment, children welfare and self-employment for youth. The then Bishop, Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, (now the Delhi archbishop) had granted the permission to set up the charitable society.
“The society’s aim was to collect donations from several government, non-government entities and educational institutions under the diocese. While collecting donations, which were not enough to run its charitable activities, the Navjeevan Charitable Society came to know about the book publishers, who were minting money by selling books and stationary to the schools run by the diocese. The society sought donations from these publishers, but didn’t get a good response,” said a senior priest living in Jalandhar for past 40 years.
The priest added that the publishers were already giving donations to directors of the schools, who were also priests, so that they continue buying books from them.
“It was then that Father [Madassery] discussed the matter with Bishop Couto and sought permission to start their own business of selling books and stationary to the schools under the diocese,” the senior priest said.
“Father [Madassery] then set up ‘Navjeevan Enterprises’ in 2009. He is the proprietor of the company. In the year that it was established, Navjeevan Enterprises sold books to nine schools,” he said, adding that the Navjeevan Enterprises has its office in Guru Gobind Singh Avenue, Jalandhar.
Looking at the profit that they garnered through Navjeevan Enterprises, the idea of setting up several other firms cropped up.
In 2009, another firm ‘Words Worth Educational And Private Limited (Publishing House)’ was set up by Father Madassery in partnership with a private person, Sunil Bhaskar of Delhi, by investing 2 million rupees. The company was registered in Delhi and is still publishing a few books out of the total 150 titles being supplied by the priests’ company to the schools.
The idea was to set up a full-fledged publishing house but somehow it did not work out well and remains a small entity with a turnover of 4.4 million rupees. The purpose, a Church officials said, was to bring down the cost of the text books by publishing them “in house” instead procuring from local market.
After this, several other firms were established.
In April 2011, EduZone Multimedia Private Limited was set up in a partnership by Father Madassery and Delhi-based Sunil Bhaskar. This company, also registered in Delhi, was to supply smart class boards and related materials.
In the same year, two priests, Father Basil, who is now in Muktsar, and Father John George, who is now in Ajnala (Amritsar), launched a TV channel – Prarthana Bhawan TV – under the diocese with head office in Ludhiana where they were posted. The channel’s content is religious programs including, preaching of Christianity, educational programs, and such.
In 2012, Bishop Couto was transferred to Delhi and Bishop Franco Mulakkal (who was then the auxiliary of Delhi) took over Jalandhar diocese in 2013.
The major group of companies under the diocese came up in 2014 when a partnership firm — ‘Sahodhaya (Sahodaya — rising together) Partnership Company’ — with its head office at Ludhiana and sub office at Jalandhar was established. Father Madassery, and other priests with their first names — Father Jose P, Father Paul and Father Scaria — are its partners-cum-directors.
Under Sahodhaya, five entities were registered which included Sahodaya Text Books and Stationery (2014), which supplies books to almost all English-medium schools out of the total 70 schools under the diocese; Sahodhaya Securities (2015), which provides security staff to the educational institutes of the diocese; Sahodhaya Construction (2017), which takes the up construction works of diocese buildings and schools; Sahodhaya Garments (2016), which supplies school uniforms; and Sahodhaya Sports Goods Manufacturing (2015), which deals in skill training in manufacturing of sports goods and marketing.
The office of all these five entities is located in double-storey rented building at Laddhewali locality of Jalandhar.
On May 13, 2016, three priests launched an NBFC – ‘Navjeevan Nidhi Limited – with its directors being Father Madassery, Father Joseph and one more. Its office is housed in a double-story building in the narrow lane of Karol Bagh.
In 2016, Sahodhaya Transport, a separate company was registered by Father Jose P, Father Joseph and Father Paul with the purpose of providing buses to schools. Currently 30 buses of the company are ferrying children of various schools of the diocese.
One more company was floated in the name of ‘Smart Solutions’ in 2017-2018 to provide smart boards, computers and other software solutions to schools by Father Jose P and others.
In 2017, SHINE (Sacred Heart Institution National Entrance), a coaching center, was opened of which Father Madassery is a director. The Ludhiana-based center provides coaching to the aspirants of IAS, MBBS, IITs, and IIMs. Around 180 aspirants were coached here in past three years. The center charges 60,000 rupees as fees annually from each student.
Also, one Amritsar based priest has been running a welding unit to provide grills to the construction company.
“It seems that these priests are now competing with each other and want to open more and more companies,” said a senior priest at the diocese, who said he was surprised at the recovery of huge cash from Father Madassery.
One of the oldest priests in Punjab said that this trend was not good as it would in the longer run tarnish the image of the Church.
A young priest, who was ordained a few years ago said that there was no harm if the Church permitted private business, but one should take care not to hurt the Church’s image.
Father Madassery, who is running maximum number of companies (11 entities under Sahodhaya, Navjeevan and SHINE), told the Sunday Express that all his firms are running for charity purpose.
Under Navjeevan Charitable Society, he has been giving scholarship to hundreds of poor students.
“We have given employment to 150 persons under Sahodaya Securities, 70 in the company that sells books, and around 500 others in the construction business, sports and garments firm and coaching center,” he said, asking what wrong were they doing by saving the youth from falling prey to drugs and other bad habits.
“Under NBFC, we have been giving loans to such poor people who could not get it from banks,” he said.
Father John George, who started the TV Channel with Father Basil, said that the purpose was not “any profit making” but to educate people about Christianity and morality.
Father Jose P also defended his company and said that “our only purpose” was to provide safety to children while travelling in school buses.
The long list of firms they run:
2008: Father Madassery sets up Navjeevan Charitable Society, an NGO.
2009: Navjeevan Enterprises Company comes up under the proprietorship of Father Anthony.
2009: ‘Words Worth Educational And Private Limited (Publishing House)’ established by Father Madasserry in partnership with Sunil Bhaskar, a Delhi based individual
2011: Father Madassery and Delhi-based Sunil Bhaskar set up EduZone Multimedia Private Limited
2011: Two priests, Father Basil and Father John George, establish Prarthana Bhawan TV Channel
2014: Sahodhaya Partnership Company is established by Father Madassery, Father Jose P, Father Paul and Father Scaria under which Sahodaya Text Books and Stationery was set up.
2015: They set up Sahodaya Securities
2015: Sahodhaya Sports Goods Manufacturing comes up
2016: Sahodhaya Garments established
2016: Father Madassery, Father Joseph and one more set up NBFC called ‘Navjeevan Nidhi Limited
2016: Sahodhaya Transport set up by Father Jose P, Father Joseph and Father Paul.
2017: Sahodhaya Construction is established
2017: Smart Solutions formed to provide school boards, computers and other software solution to schools
2017: Father Madassery sets up SHINE (Sacred Heart Institution National Entrance), a coaching center in Ludhiana