CHENNAI: Thomas, founder of St Joseph’s Hospice, which is now being evacuated on allegations of irregularities, denied all charges against the home at a press meet on Tuesday.
He said the home was being operated with all necessary permission from government authorities and that the local officials were informed every time they deposited bodies in the multi-tier vault within the premises.
Asked about why a corpse was carried in a van along with two other destitute elderly (the incident which created the controversy around the home), Thomas said it was done by the driver on his own. “It was the wrong decision taken by the driver Devaraj who was also the Tambaram hospice’s keeper, that led to all false allegations,” Thomas told reporters.
“The dead body and the elderly man were the inmates of the home in Tambaram. The elderly woman was brought to Tambaram two days before the incident on police memo provided by the Kotturpuram police,” he said.
When queried about the license of the home, the 67-year-old said that the license expired on September 18, 2017. Three days prior to this, they had applied for renewal to officials.
“While we received the building stability certificate and fire safety certificate within two days, the sanitary inspector delayed the process and it is still pending,” he said, adding, “The sanitary inspector did not cite reason for delay.”
To the questions about the multi-tier vault and the permission to be granted for burying the dead, Thomas alleged that in 2011, when he approached the Collector, he asked the priest to get approval from the Superintendent of Police of Kancheepuram. He showed a photocopy of the order that the SP gave.
Since the permission for the burial ground rests with the district administration, when the reporters raised doubts, the priest said that he acted with the knowledge of the Collector.The priest added, “More than 1,500 people have died so far and about 96 per cent of the people were Hindus, the remaining were Christians and Muslims. Everyone is buried in the multi-tier vault according to their respective religious rituals.”
On the allegation that he did not submit any record for the bodies buried, Thomas said that they maintain all records of the deceased and with proper certificate from the VAO, they bury the dead. He also said that he was posted in England for a few years and with the fund raised there, he started the home for the dying and destitute.
“Almost 65 per cent of the funds are generated from the Indian citizens and the 35 per cent comes from abroad with proper tax clearance,” he added.
Learning that the body was being carted away from the Tambaram branch of St Joseph Hospices, which houses the destitute elderly, to the remote Paleswaram village branch in Kancheepuram district, as many as 60 officials went for a site inspection on February 21.
The officials who inspected the home a few days ago, were surprised to find that the hospice did not just take care of the destitute elderly, but also had a multi-tier vault for storing corpses. The vaults appeared like bank lockers. After a certain number of years, the vaults were reused.
While it is unclear if the hospice management had obtained permission to build the vault, what raised concern among officials was the lack of monitoring over whose bodies were deposited there and how the remains were disposed of. The home’s licence expired a few months ago and its application for renewal has not yet been approved.