KOCHI: The Kerala High Court on Tuesday directed the Ernakulam district collector to take over the Kothamangalam St Thomas Church — popularly known as Cheriyapally — and remove the people squatting on the church premises. A single judge issued the order after considering a petition filed by Orthodox priest Thomas Paul Ramban seeking police protection to conduct religious services at the church in view of the Supreme Court verdict in this regard.
Justice P B Sureshkumar also directed the collector to ensure that public order, peace and tranquility prevail in the locality. The court said the collector should hand over the church, its precincts and movables to the petitioner for management if he was satisfied that the situation prevailing in the area was conducive to enable the petitioner to conduct religious ceremonies.
The Orthodox faction vicar shall render the services required if the funeral of any parishioner has to be conducted. There shall not be any impediments in conducting the funeral.
Once the church and its precincts are handed over to the petitioner, necessary police protection should be provided for conducting religious ceremonies. If any person obstructs the religious services or creates trouble, the police shall forthwith arrest and remove him.
The court directed the collector to deploy necessary contingent of police on the church premises until peace and harmony is restored, and the petitioner is in a position to manage the church affairs.
Considering a plead by Ramban in 2018 seeking control of the church as per SC verdict, the Muvattupuzha munsiff court had restrained the Jacobite faction from entering the church.
Though the Jacobites approached the High Court questioning the verdict, the appeal was dismissed. Armed with the High Court order, Ramban arrived in Kothamangalam in October, 2019 to enter the church and conduct religious services. But he could not do so due to Jacobite faction’s opposition.
When the case seeking police protection came up for hearing, the state government argued there were chances of law-and-order issues if attempts were made to enter the church by force. The government contended that steps have to be taken to avoid loss of lives while implementing the Supreme Court order.
But the court dismissed the government’s stand and said the latter is bound to implement the verdict. Implementation of the judgment cannot be prevented citing law-and- order problems. The government is trying to bargain citing possibility of violence.