Kerala Bishop, five priests arrested by TN police in illegal sand mining case

Meanwhile, the Kerala Catholic diocese has moved the Tirunelveli district court for bail of Bishop Samuel Mar Irenios.
Bishop Samuel Mar Irenios
Bishop Samuel Mar Irenios
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A Kerala Catholic Bishop and five priests have been arrested in connection with illegal sand mining in Ambasmudram in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, police said on Tuesday, February 8. They were arrested by the state's crime branch wing, CB-CID on Saturday and later produced before a local court in connection with illegal sand mining from Tamirabarani river, they said. The case had been earlier transferred to the CB-CID for probe by the Madras High Court and already one person has been arrested in this connection.

Meanwhile, the Kerala Catholic diocese has moved the Tirunelveli district court for bail of Bishop Samuel Mar Irenios who was arrested by the Tamil Nadu Crime branch CID at Ambasamudram. Vicar General Shaji Thomas Manikulam and four other priests were also arrested with the Bishop. The bail application at Tirunelveli court will be coming up for a hearing on Wednesday, February 9.

While the Bishop (69) and Father Thomas Chamakkala (69) were admitted to Government Medical College hospital, Tirunelveli after they complained of chest pain and fell ill, the rest of the priests were remanded to judicial custody on Monday. The priests who are remanded in judicial custody at Nanguneri jail are George Samuel (58), Vicar General Shaji Thomas (58), Jijo Thomas (37), and Jose Kalaviyal (53).

Manuel George of Pathanamthitta in Kerala was arrested earlier in this case. Police officers said that Manuel George had obtained a license for storing, processing rough stone, gravel, crusher dust, and M-Sand in a 300-acre plot adjacent to a check dam at Pottai in South Kallidakurichi village in Tirunelveli district.

The property was owned by Bishop Irenious on behalf of the Malankara Catholic Church, Pathanamthitta district, and was given on lease to Manuel George from November 2019 for a period of five years, police said.

Several social and environmental activists complained that Manuel George was conducting large-scale river sand mining from Vandal Odai Check dam and adjacent areas, after which the Sub collector of Cheranmahadevi conducted an inspection and assessed that 27,774 cubic cm of sand was illegally mined and transported from the place.

The Sub Collector imposed a penalty of Rs 9.54 crore on the landowners under the Tamil Nadu Mines and Mineral Corporation rules 1959. The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court had directed the case to be transferred from Kallidakurichi police station to the CB-CID after local people, environmentalists and social activists moved the court citing illegal sand mining and transportation.

The CB-CID arrested the Bishop and the five priests citing that the illegal land mining was conducted by Manual George in connivance with the owners including Bishop Irenious and the priests.

A senior priest of the Pathanamthitta diocese said, "The Bishop and priests did not know that the person who had taken the land on lease was indulging in such activities. In fact, the Bishop was called for a discussion but we came to know that he has been arrested along with other priests. We did not know that Manuel George, who was given the 300 acre land on lease, was carrying out sand mining in adjacent plots of land that don't have title deeds."

(With IANS and PTI inputs)

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