Archbishop K. P. Yohannan, started Gospel for Asia, a non-profit missions organization with a focus on India and Asia, and later funded Believers Eastern Church. (Photo: Wikipedia.com)
A court has set aside India's only communist government's order to acquire more than 2,000 acres of land belonging to a Christian denomination for a proposed airport in Kerala state.
The Kerala high court, the top court in the southern Indian state, on Oct. 16 quashed a notification issued by the state government to initiate the process for acquiring 2,253 acres of rubber plantation in possession of the Believers' Church.
The Kerala-based Christian denomination has welcomed the top court order saying, "our stand has been vindicated".
In June, the state government issued a notification paving the way for acquiring the Cheruvally Estate's land for the proposed Sabarimala airport in Kottayam district.
The government went ahead with its decision even as a title dispute over the land is pending before a civil court in the state for adjudication after the state disapproved of the Church's ownership of the land.
The Church purchased the estate in 2005 from private owner Harrisons Malayalam Limited whom the government had given the land on lease for plantations.
However, the high court quashed the government order pointing out that it did not follow the conditions of the Land Acquisition Act 2013.
The government order was challenged in the court by the Ayana Charitable Trust, representing the Believers' Church, who had claimed ownership of the estate.
The court had earlier stayed the June 18 order issued by the revenue principal secretary to take over the land.
The revenue department had directed the Kottayam district collector to initiate proceedings to acquire the estate near Erumely.
The Church, while challenging the legal validity of the government notification, said the order exceeded the state's jurisdictional authority according to the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 2013.
The government also asserted that the land belongs to it.
The respondent also said the government could not proceed with the land acquisition without conducting a social impact study, which is mandatory as per the Land Acquisition Act 2013.
"We are very happy that the high court has vindicated our stand," said Father Sijo Panthappallil, the Believers' Church's public relations officer.
"If the government wanted the land for the airport, it should have discussed it with us. Instead, it went ahead with the acquisition process.
We challenged it in the High Court and the court has accepted our claims," Father Panthappallil told UCA News on Oct. 19.
The Church, however, does not oppose the proposed airport.
"We are not against the airport," Father Panthappallil asserts.
"If the government approaches us for discussion, we will positively address it," the priest added.