Govt seeks legal breather as HC slams delay in taking over disputed church

Govt seeks legal breather as HC slams delay in taking over disputed church
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Kochi: The state government authorities have sought for a legal breather to escape contempt charge by the judiciary over the delay in executing a Supreme Court order to hand over a Jacobite Church at Kothamangalam to the Orthodox faction.

Additional Chief Secretary (Home) T K Jose and Ernakulam Collector S Suhas have filed affidavits in the Kerala High Court in this regard.

The church at the centre of the row is the St Thomas Church which is also known as the Marthoma Cheriyapally.

In the affidavit, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) sought that the proceedings over the contempt of court plea be adjourned by three months. The contempt plea was filed over the failure to implement the court order.

The affidavit also said that an amicable solution is likely to be reached.

While seeking more time, the Collector informed the court that if a meet of the Church leaderships failed to reach a consensus, the order would be implemented. The Collector also cited the COVID-19 situation and the local body polls in the affidavit.

The affidavits were filed after the High Court criticised the state government and the Collector the other day.

Excerpts from the affidavits

The affidavit of the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) stated: Three meets were held on the Chief Minister's directive for implementing the Supreme Court's order. The third meet was held on November 4.

A clear understanding has been reached that till an amicable decision is arrived at through further meets, both factions will not precipitate any issue. It would not be insisted that the church should be forcefully taken over from one faction or with the help of the court order. This situation would be continued till a decision is arrived at.

If at this stage a court order is passed, the long-time efforts to resolve the issue and the attempt to implement the Supreme Court's order could face a hurdle. The dispute between the two Churches would affect the family relations of those from the Malankara Church. This would also affect the peaceful atmosphere in the state.

The affidavit of the Collector read: The court order could not be implemented as the situation was not in the control of the state authorities or myself due to COVID-19. As per the government findings, if the church is taken over forcefully, there is a possibility of COVID-19 spread.

Orthodox Church slams Additional Secretary's stand

Synod secretary of the Orthodox Church, Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros, said that the affidavit filed by the Additional Secretary in connection with the Kothamangalam church case was not factual.

"As a person who had taken part in the meet for the Orthodox Church, I can state that no understanding was reached to stall or delay the court proceedings," Mar Diascoros said.

“This move is to mislead the court. The affidavit shows the government machinery's reluctance to implement the court order," he alleged.

Do not hinder talks: Jacobite Church

Jacobite Church spokesperson Dr Kuriakose Mar Theophilos said that the Orthodox Church should not back off from the assurance given to the Chief Minister.

"Both factions had given assurance to the CM that no act would be made to precipitate issues. If trouble breaks out over Kothamangalam church, the talks could be affected," he added.

Dr Kuriakose Mar Theophilos said that the talks should be held and the issue amicably resolved.

A hartal was observed in Kothamanagalam on Thursday over the move to take over the church.

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