Illicit sand mining case: bail plea of Bishop, 5 priests dismissed

A court here dismissed on Wednesday the bail petition of Bishop of Syro Malankara Diocese of Pathanamthitta and five other priests, who were arrested recently following illegal sand mining done in the property of the diocese that had been rented out to an individual for farming and M-Sand manufacturing.

As the Syro Malankara Diocese of Pathanamthitta in Kerala owns 300 acres of land at Pottal near Kallidaikurichi in the district, it was given on lease for five years from November 2019 to one Manuel George of Kottayam for farming. However, he obtained license for manufacturing M-Sand at the property, allegedly without the knowledge of the property owners (Syro Malankara Diocese of Pathanamthitta).

Though the license was given for storing, processing and consuming rough stone, gravel, stone crusher dust and M Sand, Manuel George allegedly lifted sand from the nearby 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 Sub-Collector of Cheranmahadevi Pratik Tayal inspected the spot and found that 27,774 cubic meter river sand had been lifted illegally. Consequently, the Sub-Collector slapped a fine of ₹9.57 crore on the land owners (Syro Malankara Diocese of Pathanamthitta).

On registration of case in this connection, the police arrested Manuel George, one Sameer and 18 others including two reporters while the then Assistant Director of Mines Sabitha was transferred to neighbouring Thoothukudi district for allegedly facilitating the illegal sand mining.

When a petition was filed by the environmentalists at the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court in connection with the case, it was transferred to CB-CID investigation. This led to the arrest of Bishop of Syro Malankara Diocese of Pathanamthitta Most Rev. Samuel Mar Irenios, 69, Vicar General of the Diocese Rev. Fr. Shaji Thomas, 58, Fr. Jose Chamakala, 69, Fr. George Samuel, 56, Fr. Jijo James, 37, and Fr. Jose Kalayil, 53, all priests serving in Pathanmthitta Diocese on last Saturday late night as the investigators suspected that the illegal sand quarrying had been done with the knowledge of the property owners.

When they were lodged in Nanguneri prison, Rev. Samuel Mar Irenios and Fr. Jose Chamakala developed health issues and were admitted to the Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital.

As their bail petition came up for hearing before Judicial Magistrate I (In-Charge) Kadarkarai on Wednesday evening, he dismissed the petitions.

Representatives of the Syro Malankara Church Pathanamthitta Diocese, who had camped here for facilitating the bail plea proceedings, said the Diocese representatives were unable to inspect their property near Pottal since 2019 March due to the pandemic and the contractor (Manuel George), seizing this opportunity, had illegally mined the sand. As the contractor had breached the terms of the agreement he had reached with the Diocese for taking the land on lease, legal measures had been initiated to remove him from the contract, they said.

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