A verdict passed by Karnataka High Court has categorically prohibited the CSI from managing properties of United Basel Mission Church in India in the districts of Dakshina Kannada and Kodagu. The court observed that the Trust formed by Church of South India was managing 1,500 properties of UBMC causing “breach of trust”, “without any legal right for the past about 40 years.” Following the verdict, the UBMC Trust Association has been declared a ‘public trust’, with CSI being removed from trusteeship.
Even though the court declared the UBMC Trust Association a “public trust,” it reiterated that the creator of a public trust has “no right to revoke the public trust”. Hence the UBMC’s revoking of the UBMC Trust Association has been considered as null and void ab initio. The Bench also declared that UBMC’s transfer of properties to CSI Trust Association in 1970s has no legal recognition, declaring all transactions as null and void.
The district court of Mangalore has been directed by the Karnataka High Court to form a scheme that will facilitate proper administration and management of UBMC properties. They have been directed to appoint 9 trustees since UBMC Trust Association ceases to exist now.
The CSI and their representatives have also been directed to submit accounts of income and expenditure of the properties they held. Passing the judgment, Justices N Kumar and AN Venugopala Gowda who constituted the division bench, have asked for accounts from the time they handled trusteeship. UBMC properties comprise of prominent church buildings, prayer halls and graveyards, hospitals, theological seminaries, schools, hostels, shelter homes for the poor and sick, havens for widows residence for missionaries.
The plea against CSI was filed by Christopher Karkada and his group who happen to be the beneficiaries of the UBMC. According to the petition, the UMBC properties belong to the public, charitable and religious trust that was formed by UBMC during pre-Independence. Any reassignment of absolute ownership to the CSI under the guise of merger with CSI was illegal.
The Bench also turned down the CSI contention that the trust was private, marking that the CSI and its agencies had alienated parts of the specified properties. This happened at a time when an interim court order prohibiting alienation came into vogue. The court stated that such alienation hence had no recognition in law. UBMC Trust Association was founded in 1930s, with all properties transferred to it. But the trust was revoked in 1957 by UBMC itself. In 1972 the Trust Association was wound up, following which its properties were transferred to CSI Trust Association.
“The CSI/CSI Trust Association is not entitled for possession of these properties…. They got into possession through documents having no legal recognition…and acting as trustees of properties. Because of the assertion of title in respect of the properties and alienating the properties belonging to the UBMC Trust Association, it committed breach of trust,” said the Bench.
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