Indian bishop, priests arrested for illegal sand mining operations on Church-owned land

Sacred Heart Malankara Catholic Church in Mylapra, Kerala, India. Sacred Heart Malankara Catholic Church in Mylapra, Kerala, India. | Feby Varghese via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

A Catholic bishop and several priests have reportedly been arrested in India for illegal mining operations on land owned by the diocese.

Those arrested include Bishop Samuel Irenios Kaattukallil of the Syro-Malankara Eparchy of Pathanamthitta and five priests of the eparchy, including a vicar general, UCA News reported.

The clerics are accused of facilitating large-scale mining of river sand from a 300-acre plot of land owned by the eparchy that has historically been used for agriculture, as it had been leased out for farming. The mine, which allegedly removed some 27,700 cubic feet of sand, is located on the banks of the Thamirabarani River in Tamil Nadu state.

Sand mining is a profitable enterprise in India, as the sand is often sold for use in the construction industry. However, the practice is banned in most areas due to the heavy environmental and ecological toll, whereby some rivers are losing large portions of their beds.

Eparchial officials say that the lessee was the one who was engaged in the illegal mining operations, and that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were unable to inspect the land for a period of two years.

The lessee reportedly implicated the bishop and priests in the operation after being arrested earlier by local authorities. The clerics were arrested after state officials investigated and reportedly suspected that the clerics were in connivance with the miner.

A senior priest, speaking on condition of anonymity, told UCA News that the 300-acre agricultural plot, which has coconut and gooseberry plantations, has been owned by the eparchy for 40 years.

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