Madhya Pradesh church leaders angry over move to control properties

February 7th, 2009 - 4:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyBhopal, Feb 7 (IANS) Church leaders in Madhya Pradesh are irked over a proposal to constitute for Christians a body on the lines of the Muslims’ Wakf Board and have demanded the dissolution of the state minorities commission that has suggested the move.The Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission, which is meant to protect the interests of religious minorities, had last month recommended that a law be enacted to set up a board to manage Church properties, including cemeteries, similar to the Wakf Board.

The Waqf Board, set up in 1995, manages properties for religious and charitable purposes. It also supports Muslim schools, colleges, hospitals and charity institutions, using the money it generates from its properties and donations.

The move has drawn strong criticism from the Christians as it would bring the church properties under government control.

“The church opposes such a move for the Christian community because church assets, unlike the Waqf properties, are purchased after paying money and not taken from the government on charity,” said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Catholic Church in the state.

“Also, the church manages its own properties legally following all government laws and regulations and does not need additional institutional help to monitor the use of properties,” the Archbishop told IANS adding that the minority commission members have acted “in total ignorance and gross violation” of the country’s laws.

Contending that all the church properties are under the state government’s Act of Firms and Societies, regular meetings are held, accounts audited as per law and documents duly submitted, the Archbishop pointed out “It is clear that the State Minorities Commission is working against the interest of the Christian minority”.

The commission’s mandate is to protect the interests of religious minorities and to ensure their religious and civic freedom as guaranteed in the constitution. On the contrary, he said, its latest recommendation “shows beyond doubt that it is disloyal to minorities and loyal to the government”.

Church leaders also suspect that the commission was acting on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government and the Archbishop has requested Governor Balram Jakhar not to accept the recommendation of the commission.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur said the recommendations were “politically motivated” and made without consulting church leaders.

The Christian organisations have announced a boycott of commission member Anand Bernard who moved the proposal. The action committee of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (Christian forum) urging all community members to stay away from Bernard.

However Bernard, unfazed by the criticism, said only a few vested interests were resisting his recommendation which is essentially aimed at bringing about transparency in the Christian organisations’ property management.

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