South Asia

Government removes Church of South India ‘licence’; Church obtains stay

In a shocking move last week, the National Company Law Tribunal removed all the office bearers and directors of the Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA) on alleged charges of misappropriation, appointing a retired judge of the High Court to look into the affairs of the organisation. The CSITA has reportedly obtained a stay on the order.

As reported by the Economic Times (ET), the Ministry of Corporate Affairs had involved the Serious Fraud Investigation Office this October, to probe into “alleged balance-sheet irregularities” of the CSITA.

Meanwhile, one John S Dorai a Mylapore based former banker and a member of the Church of South India (CSI), had filed a Company Petition, seeking to remove all the directors of the CSITA. The petition filed by Dorai claimed that the Church governing council, the Synod, violated rules, in electing the directors of the CSITA. The Church had filed a counter to his petition.

A revised order, as per ET report, issued on 18 November 2016, by Mohd Sharief Tariq, Member–Judicial at the Corporate court, said, “Since the company petition is held maintainable in the given circumstances, there is an urgent need to regulate the affairs of the R1 company (Church of South India Trust Association). Thus I proceed to remove all the directors and managing committee including office bearers.”

The order further says, “The erstwhile management committee is directed to hand over all the documents and books of accounts and other records of the R1 company to the Registry of this bench in a sealed cover within a week from the date of pronouncement of this order.”

Retired Madras High Court Judge K Sampath has been appointed as Chairman by the court, “who will recommend to the court on directors and office bearers.”

The court has directed that the new administrative members recommended by the chairman should “neither be chosen from the group of petitioner nor from the respondents.”

The Most Rev. Dr. G. Dyvasirvadam, Moderator of the Church of South India Synod, responded to the order while speaking to ET. He said that the structure of a 70-year-old institution has been disrupted unilaterally and that the Church had been serving in thousands of rural parishes, making accounting a serious difficulty in the absence of a solid reporting mechanism. “We respect the law of the land. But we are a democratically elected body. We will contest this order.” He told ET.

The CSITA has reportedly obtained a stay order against the order passed by the National Company Law Tribunal on 28 November 2016 as per the CSI Synod website.

The Church of South India and allegations

 The Church of South India (CSI) is the result of the union of churches of varying traditions: Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Reformed.  United and formed in 1947, the CSI is the second largest Christian Church in India, after the Roman Catholic Church, with 24 dioceses across 4 states, including one in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and a membership of over 4 million faithful.

The Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA) was registered in September 1947, as a non-profit company under Section 26 of the Indian Companies Act 1913 (which became Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act 1956 and now Section 8 of the Indian Companies Act 2013). According to the website of the Church of South India Synod, “The properties of the Churches in Union have been transferred to CSI-TA.”

As reported by the Economic Times (ET), the CSITA “.. run schools, hospitals and earns predominantly through rental income from lands left behind by Anglican philanthropists,”

The CSITA, which earns total revenue of nearly Rupees 1,300 crore (approximately 189.37 Million USD) every year, has been facing charges of alleged fraud and misappropriation of funds for about a decade now. Over a period, activists fighting against alleged corruption in the Church contend that Church of South India is actually a unit of the CSITA, something that the Church disproves.

John S Dorai had told the media in 2012, “CSITA, in its capacity as a company is in effect the parent entity, and the property of CSI is vested in this company. Income and assets of CSI are managed by CSITA. CSI officials hold positions in CSITA on ex-officio terms, and this is not in agreement with Companies Act statutes.”

Reaction of Christian leaders

Speaking to Global Christian News, Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, General Secretary, Asia Evangelical Alliance said, “It is a unjust and a wrong intervention. The Government trying to interfere in the Church is not a healthy sign. Rejecting the leadership of the Church is a dictatorial step.”

 Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, Moderator of the Church of North India
Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, Moderator of the Church of North India

Rt. Rev. Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, Moderator of the Church of North India spoke exclusively to Global Christian News.

He said, “It is a very serious matter and whatever has been reported is very unfortunate. The image of the Church may be tarnished as this is widely reported. It would have been good if the matter were solved internally. I sincerely pray that if there are things that need to be corrected then they should be. The leadership is not made up of perfect people.”

“Some years ago we adopted a policy of zero tolerance to corruption and now this has come out. It is high time we look inside the Church. Now the matter is not only restricted to the CSI but the name of the Church as a whole has been tarnished.

“People may wonder what is going on. They have a right to know and we should be very transparent. The Bishop is a servant of the people and is not a Bishop without his people,” he added.