New Delhi: For the first time in India, the government has decisively acted against shady land deals of the Church after a MyNation exposé.

The Jharkhand government on Monday cancelled all land deals which were part of a massive land scam by a Catholic educational society involving tribal land in Jharkhand’s Simdega district. The government has also decided to take over the structures built on the controversial piece of land.

MyNation had exclusively broken the story on September 21, highlighting how the Simdega Catholic Diocesan Educational Society purchased 20 acres of tribal land, flouting government norms, using Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) money.

District revenue officials said the Simdega Bishop House, built by the Christian society on the land, will also be sealed.

Deputy commissioner of Simdega Jata Shankar Chaudhary told MyNation that action has been initiated. “After a complaint, we had initiated an inquiry and collected land records from respective sources. We found them guilty on several counts and the report was sent to the Jharkhand chief secretary. The circle officer of the revenue department has been directed to initiate action against the society,” he said.

“The report has also been sent to the criminal investigation department,” Chaudhary added.

According to a CID report, this Christian organisation had asked for a sanction of Rs 40,000 crore under the FCRA.

Apart from a confidential CID report in the matter that highlighted the murky deals of this organisation, a complaint had been lodged with the deputy commissioner of Simdega by rights activist Vinay Joshi, who runs the rights body Legal Rights Observatory (LRO). 

The society could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.

According to the report and complaint, key provisions of Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) have been flouted by the Simdega Catholic Diocesan Educational Society. The organisation bought non-transferable land “with forgery and deceit” in the name of 27 church fathers associated with the institution at rates way less than the circle rates, thereby causing loss of revenue over and above the illegality of the sale-purchase.

As per the intelligence report, Section 40 of the CNT Act prohibits land deal registration in the name of hospitals, trust, society, school, colleges. “So the land in question was divided into small parts and got registered in the name of 27 fathers. This is illegal,” the report said.

“Section 46 of the CNT Act has been violated. While it says that the seller and purchaser of land should reside in (an area under) the same police station where the land is situated. In this case, apart from a couple, all fathers have permanent addresses outside the (ambit of the) police station where the land was bought,” the report said.

The confidential report also said that while the Simdega Bishop House is standing on the concerned plot of land, it has no papers of registration in the name of any trust, society or organisation. “There is no document suggesting that the land was donated by the 27 fathers who have bought it.”  

The report points to a hasty transaction in getting all the land registries done. “In the land registry, apart from a couple, none of these 27 have signed on their own. All the registries have been completed in a span of two days.”

The report also raised questions over the source of income of the fathers. “As there is no source of income to match the money involved in the purchase of land, where did the money come from? Also, why is the land not under the possession of respective fathers, but under the possession of the organisation?” the report asked.

The land enclosed by the society also encompasses plot numbers 3700, 3701, 3702 and 392 which are all pieces of government land.

The aforesaid land deals expose the nexus of the clerics with revenue officials, who duped the government by ignoring the state land rates mentioned in the ready reckoner and by avoiding payment of court fees and proper revenue stamp duty.