02/09/2022, 16.22
INDIA
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Bishops’ Conference sees no religious element behind Bishop Irenios’s arrest

by Nirmala Carvalho

Illegal sand mining on land leased by the Diocese of Pathanamthitta had been going on for years. In 2020, local authorities imposed a first fine. Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios told AsiaNews that the issue is strictly legal. Speaking about his fellow prelate, “We shall prove his innocence,” he said.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The sensational arrest of the Syro-Malabar bishop of Pathanamthitta and five priests in Tamil Nadu for illegal sand mining on land owned by the diocese in Tirunelveli district has no "religious aspect,” said Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, Syro-Malankara eparch of Mavelikara and vice-president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), speaking to AsiaNews.

“We have started legal procedures and are sure that we will get justice for Bishop Samuel Mar Irenios,” Bishop Ignathios explained. “There is no religious aspect to this arrest.”

“We shall prove his innocence and fight with legal tools to see this acknowledged. We know the bishop very well; he is a charismatic person, head of a college.”

Police “summoned him to question him and then arrested him. Manuel George, the farmer to whom the land had been leased, who was also arrested, blamed the Diocese of Pathanamthitta.”

Meanwhile, new details of the affair have emerged. Manuel George was into large-scale sand mining business; for years, he took sand out of the river banks.

Already in September 2020 he came to the attention of local authorities in Cheranmahadevi. Upon inspecting the site, it found that 27,774 cubic metres of sand had been illegally taken away for commercial purposes.

A 95.7 million rupees (just under US$ 1.3 million) fine was imposed under with Tamil Nadu’s mining legislation. The operating licence of a company involved in the business was also suspended.

“I think this is an unfortunate mistake they have fallen into,” Fr Paul Thelakat told AsiaNews, speaking about local Church authorities

For Fr Thelakat, a former spokesman of the Syro-Malabar Synod and editor of the magazine Light of Truth, “The diocese should have been more careful about how the land they had leased was used. I am saddened by the legal trouble in which they got themselves, and now they are paying the consequences.”

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