By Mark Michael

The law enforcement wing of India’s Department of Revenue placed a lien on over $8 million of the Church of South India Trust Association’s assets on September 9 in a probe related to an allegedly illegal land sale. India’s Ministry of Defense claims that the church trust lacked proper title to the disputed property and that the sale proceeds properly belong to it instead. The Department of Revenue’s Enforcement Division has acted under the terms of the 2002 Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

The 1.8 acre parcel at the center of the dispute is in the heart of Bangalore, India’s third largest city, near All Saints Church, in the historic Richmond Town district. The Church of India Trust Association, which handles much of the property for the denomination, sold it in early 2019 to the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) and Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) for Rs600 million. The property is to be the site of a subway station on the city’s new red line, which is currently under construction.

A portion of the disputed property had been associated with All Saints since 1868, the year before construction began on the stone Gothic Anglican church, which was built to serve residents of the Bangalore Cantonment. This military-controlled district was oriented around support services for the colonial British Indian Army’s largest garrison in Southern India.

The property in question was leased by the British Indian Army to All Saints’ Church in three separate leaseholds in 1864, 1884, and 1898. Businesses constructed on the properties had paid rent and land fees for many years to the All Saints Church and the Church of South India Trust.

Officials from the Ministry of Defense told The Times of India that their investigation into the parcel “revealed that the land belonged to the defense ministry and it was only leased to All Saints Church for conducting religious affairs, and no proprietary right of the land was ever transferred to the church.”

The Enforcement Agency took up the matter after the police received complaints of dishonest dealing, and the Defense Agency filed a complaint with public prosecutors in August 2019. The Church of South India Trust has filed a countersuit claiming that the church did hold proper title to the parcel. The Enforcement Division says that investigations are ongoing.