Indian Customs and Excise has fined the Bishop in Madras £7000 for his part in a scheme to defraud the government of import duties.
The Deccan Chronicle reported the government launched an investigation into Bishop Vedanayagam Devasahayam after receiving a tip that medical equipment donated to the CSI Hospital in Nagari in Andhra Pradesh had been undervalued. The diocese had presented a false manifest to the Department of Revenue that led to an underpayment of import duties.
“The department of revenue intelligence (DRI) received a complaint on the malpractice in the deal some years back. In 2003, DRI forwarded the complaint to [Madras] customs commissioner who ordered a departmental enquiry. Upon investigation it was proved that the consignment was brought here and presented at an undervalued rate,” a government official told the Chronicle.
The diocese was ordered to pay a fine and back duty of almost £675,000 while Bishop Devasahayam was ordered to pay a personal fine of £7000 for his role in the affair. Supporters of the bishop report the fines have been paid, and have accused the bishop’s critics of racism, saying their attacks are motivated by the bishop’s status as a Dalit, or untouchable.
Bishop Devasahayam is also embroiled in a lawsuit before the Indian Supreme Court over his continued status Bishop in Madras.
When appointed Bishop in Madras at age 50, Bishop Devasahayam agreed to remain in office for ten years. When he reached the age of 60, the bishop declined to retire citing church rules that set the age of retirement at 65. Lay members of the diocese brought suit against the bishop, backed by the Executive Committee of the CSI’s General Synod, that sought a court order forcing the bishop to retire.
Last year the trial court ruled in favour of the bishop, which held the CSI was a voluntary association under Indian law and was governed by its by-laws. No one could curtail, annul, amend or modify the canons, except in accordance with the terms of canon law, the lower court held, ruling the ten year term rule imposed upon the bishop was a “manifest illegality.”
However the Madras High Court on Sept 18 overturned the lower court decision, saying in 1999 the CSI Synod “made the appointment for only 10 years, and this was also approved subsequently and informed to Bishop Devasahayam. He also gave his consent in writing.”
“Having accepted the appointment for a period of 10 years, now he cannot be permitted to say that he would continue till 65 years of age,” the High Court held, affirming the dismissal of the bishop.
The bishop filed an appeal to the Indian Supreme Court and on Oct 30, 2009 it issued an order stating Bishop Devasahayam “shall continue as caretaker Bishop,” and ordered an “interim stay of any fresh election process,” pending the final disposition of the case.
As of July 5, 2010 the proceedings remain pending before the Supreme Court.