By Douglas LeBlanc
Police in the state of Madhya Pradesh have arrested the Most Rev. Prem Chand Singh, Bishop of Jabalpur and primate of the Church of North India, on charges of cheating, breach of trust, and forgery. Police say they confiscated Rs 2.02 crores ($253,000) in Fixed Deposit Receipts and $18,000 (Rs 14.3 lakh) in cash from the bishop’s home.
OpIndia reported that the bishop was detained for questioning as he returned from Germany at Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport near Nagpur. Singh reputedly had been vacationing in Germany after the Lambeth Conference.
The Economic Offenses Wing of Madhya Pradesh police has accused the bishop of diverting about Rs 2.7 crores, collected as students’ fees between 2004-05 and 2011-12, to religious institutions and misusing the money for his personal needs.
Police believe 174 bank accounts are linked to the bishop.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said officials will investigate whether the money was being used for “religious conversion or any other illegal activity.”
The Church of North India was formed as a merger of several Protestant mission churches in 1970. It inherited the substantial land holdings and trust funds of the colonial-era Church of England’s Indian dioceses, some of which date back to the early 19th century.
Disputes about the disposition of church land holdings and allegations of corrupt dealings have plagued the church in recent years. The Diocese of Chotanagpur attempted to secede from the church in 2020 in a dispute involving the unauthorized leasing of valuable church-owned real estate.
In 2014, the Church of North India’s treasurer, Prem Masih, was charged with fraud in connection with the lease of a plot in Mumbai’s high-end Colaba neighborhood that was entrusted to the historic Afghan Memorial Church. A former Bishop of Lucknow, the Rt. Rev. Morris Edgar Dan, was deposed in 2013 after being charged with forgery and fraud in a case involving the sale of lands belonging to the Lucknow Diocesan Trust.
The primate of the neighboring Church of South India, the Most Rev. A. Dharmaraj Rasalam, was elected to his post in 2020 despite allegations that he benefited from aspiring students paying large bribes to secure admission to a Church of South India-owned medical school in Karakkonam.