A court here dismissed on Wednesday the bail petition of Bishop of Syro Malankara Diocese of Pathanamthitta in Kerala and five other priests, who were arrested recently following illegal sand mining in the diocese property that was leased to an individual for farming.
The diocese owns 300 acres of land at Pottal near Kallidaikurichi in the district, which was given on five-year lease from November 2019 to one Manuel George of Kottayam for farming. However, he obtained a licence for manufacturing M-sand at the property, allegedly without the knowledge of the property owners.
Though the licence was given for storing, processing and consuming rough stone, gravel, stone crusher dust and M-sand, George allegedly lifted sand from the Vandal Odai that does not have a title deed and sold it with the connivance of revenue and police officials and a few reporters. When the matter came to light, the then Cheranmahadevi Sub-Collector Pratik Tayal inspected the spot and found that 27,774 cubic metres of river sand had been lifted illegally. He slapped a fine of ₹9.57 crore on the land owners (the diocese).
Registering a case in this connection, the police arrested George, one Sameer and 18 others, including two reporters, while the then Assistant Director of Mines Sabitha was transferred to Thoothukudi district for allegedly facilitating the illegal sand mining.
When a petition was filed by environmentalists at the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court in this connection, the case was transferred to the CB-CID.
This led to the arrest of Bishop of Syro Malankara Diocese of Pathanamthitta Most Rev. Samuel Mar Irenios, 69, Vicar General Rev. Fr. Shaji Thomas, 58, Fr. Jose Chamakala, 69, Fr. George Samuel, 56, Fr. Jijo James, 37, and Fr. Jose Kalayil, 53, on Saturday late night as the investigators suspected that the property owners knew about the illegal sand quarrying.
When they were lodged in Nanguneri prison, Rev. Samuel Mar Irenios and Fr. Jose Chamakala developed health issues and were admitted to Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital.
When their bail petitions came up for hearing before Judicial Magistrate I (in-charge) Kadarkarai, he dismissed the petitions.
Representatives of the diocese said the diocese authorities could not inspect their property near Pottal since March 2019 due to the pandemic and seizing this opportunity, George illegally mined the sand. As he breached the terms of the lease agreement, legal measures had been initiated to terminate the contract.