Apex court takes State govt. to task in Church case

Admonishes Chief Secretary for not implementing court’s judgment on July 3, 2017

July 02, 2019 11:48 pm | Updated 11:53 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday lashed out at the State government, asking whether it is “above the rule of law” and admonished the Chief Secretary for not implementing the court’s judgment on July 3, 2017 resolving a prolonged dispute between the Orthodox-Jacobite factions on the management of the parish churches in Malankara.

The Supreme Court had upheld the 1934 constitution of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and dismissed a dozen review petitions filed by the Jacobite faction (which now functions as Jacobite Syrian Christian Church) in a decision which impacted over 2,000 parish churches and 30 million followers of the Church across the world.

The observations were made by Justice Arun Mishra, who was leading a Bench comprising Justice M.R. Shah, on a plea filed by the Orthodox faction for police protection to worship in the Kattachira and Varikoli churches.

The appeal was made before the apex court after the Kerala High Court decided that police protection was necessary only in case of law and order problem, not otherwise.

The High Court had given worshippers liberty to approach the police in case of any apprehension of a law and order problem.

Two judgments

However, Justice Mishra considered the situation and said it suggested that the State was “making a mockery of the justice delivery system”. Justice Mishra said there have been two judgments from the Supreme Court itself resolving the issue, and the court would not intervene again. The judge asked why the State still finds it difficult to implement court orders.

“Tell your Chief Secretary that if he intends to go against the Supreme Court’s order, we will call everyone here. Is Kerala above rule of law? You are making a mockery of the justice delivery system,” Justice Mishra addressed senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, for Kerala.

“What is happening in the country? If they feel that they can do things like this, we will call everyone here. This is not the way the Supreme Court can be treated,” Justice Mishra orally observed.

100-year-old dispute

On November 16, 2017, a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and (now retired) Amitava Roy had upheld their July 3 judgment which had reiterated a 1995 verdict of the Supreme Court that the 1934 constitution of the Malankara Church governs the parish churches under it.

The Bench had, with their July judgment, brought a finality to the over 100-year-old dispute between the faction with allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch (Jacobites) and the Catholicos of the East (Orthdox faction) - the two powerful factions of the Malankara Church, believed to be established in AD 52 by St. Thomas.

The apex court had twice previously intervened in the dispute between the two groups – once in 1958 and the second time in 1995. On both occasions, the apex court had upheld the validity of the 1934 constitution to administer the parish churches. The July 3 judgment was the third time the court had stepped in.

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