Land ownership is a significant aspect of any country's economy, and India is no exception. When it comes to land ownership in India, the Indian Government holds the largest share, as reported by Hindustan Times in 2017. However, an intriguing fact is that after the government, it is the Catholic Church of India, not the expected real estate moguls or industrialists, that owns the most land in the country. As a conglomerate of Christian trusts and charitable societies, the Church has a vast network including bishops, priests, brothers, and sisters devoted to spreading the message of Christianity.
In this article, we will explore the value of the land owned by the Catholic Church and delve into how they have amassed such extensive holdings throughout history. Additionally, we will address the various issues and considerations surrounding their land ownership. Join us as we uncover the fascinating aspects of this topic.
Who Is the Largest Landowner in India?
The Catholic Church of India holds the distinction of being the largest non-agricultural landowner after the government. With numerous properties across the country, its total valuation amounts to a significant sum, approximately equivalent to India's navy budget at that time (approximately 20,000 crore rupees). Additionally, the Catholic Church of India stands as one of the largest non-government employers in the country.
This can be seen by the fact that the Catholic Church of India owns a lot of properties spread across various parts of the country, be it Goa on the western side of India, or, say, Kohima, in Northeast India. As per a 2012 The Telegraph-Calcutta report, they have around 2457 hospital dispensaries, 240 medical or nursing colleges, 28 general colleges, 5 engineering colleges, 3765 secondary schools, 7319 primary s, schools and 3187 nursery schools throughout India.
They have also made forays into agricultural land. For example, in 2009, they acquired a plantation worth 123 crore rupees in Kerala.
How Did They Manage to Amass These Lands?
This is mainly through the Indian Churches Act of 1927, established by the British dominion back then. The British dominion leased the lands they had captured due to their various wars at cheap rates to help them spread Christianity to the masses. Through this, they managed to acquire land throughout India and opened various institutions, be it religious institutions as mentioned above, to spread their message to the masses. The legality of the land is still debated.
One specific tactic that is noticed in the land owned by the Catholic Church of India, is while they do have land spread across various cities, they also tend to own religious institutions in small villages and soon these institutions themselves become an epicentre, a revolving point around which the whole village operates, either directly or indirectly through say the hospitality business, travels or so on.
A good example of this is the Velankanni Church in Tamil Nadu, about 150 km from Tiruchirapalli and 310 km from Chennai. While the small village is just around 5.5 square km, the whole village is dependent on a large church built specifically for Mother Mary, who gave birth to Jesus.
This church has been one of the major reasons for the development of Velankanni as a whole, especially as a tourist destination. This theme can also be found in other parts of India, such as Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, etc.
Goa is a unique case altogether, considering it was a part of Portugal until 1961. The Portuguese gave them a lot of liberty to the Catholic Church as early as the 1500s, for example. One of the first Jesuit schools in India was established in 1542 at Goa by the name of St. Paul’s college. While it was stopped due to the 1578 plague, its ruins are still considered of paramount archaeological importance.
Issues Faced by the Catholic Church in India Regarding Ownership
The ownership of land assets by the Catholic Church in India has been a subject of scrutiny and contention, giving rise to several issues. One major concern is the legality of the Church's land holdings. While the Government of India issued a circular in 1965 stating that leases granted by the British government would not be considered valid, there has been a lack of consistent enforcement of this directive.
The lack of transparency surrounding the ownership of Church properties has also been a subject of concern within the Catholic community. Prominent Catholic politician Eduardo Faleiro has emphasized the need for a separate law governing Church properties and a greater level of transparency in managing these assets. This highlights the ongoing discussions and efforts to address the transparency and legal aspects of Church property management.
He strongly emphasized that he believes that “The Church is not a symbol of power but service, and democratic laws must apply to it equally”.
The Catholic Church in India has also faced allegations of involvement in land scams. One notable incident occurred in 2018 when authorities from the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, a specific sect within the Catholic Church in India based in Kerala, were accused of being engaged in transactions involving unaccounted or black money. Such cases have raised concerns about financial impropriety and the need for stricter measures to prevent fraudulent practices.
Additionally, the sheer scale of the Church's land ownership has raised questions about its social and economic implications. The Catholic Church of India is considered one of the largest non-government landowners, and the total valuation of its land assets is estimated to be equivalent to substantial sums of money. This concentration of land resources has prompted discussions on equitable distribution and the potential impact on local communities and development projects.
The complex issues surrounding land ownership and management within the Catholic Church in India highlight the need for greater transparency, adherence to legal frameworks, and ethical practices. Efforts to address these challenges may involve implementing stronger regulations, promoting accountability, and ensuring fair and equitable utilization of land resources.
This article provides an overview of the Catholic Church of India's status as the biggest landowner in India after the government. It explores the historical factors contributing to this ownership and sheds light on the legal and transparency concerns surrounding their land assets.
Who are the prominent landowners in India, apart from the government?
Some prominent landowners in India, apart from the government, include:
- Catholic Church of India
- Indian Railways
- Indian Armed Forces
- Waqf board Property
- State Governments
- Corporate entities and industrialists
- Agricultural and farming communities
- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and trusts
Who is the largest landowner in India after the government?
The Catholic Church of India is the biggest landowner in India. It owns roughly around 20,000 crore to 50,000 crore rupees of land.
Who is the largest landowner in the world?
Roman Catholic Church is the largest landowner in the world, it owns around 70 million hectares of land.
How did the Catholic Church of India become one of the largest landowners in the country?
The Catholic Church of India acquired land over many years through various means, including donations, purchases, and historical leases.
How does the Catholic Church of India acquire and manage its land assets?
The Catholic Church of India acquires land through donations, purchases, and historical leases. The management of its land assets is overseen by various trusts, societies, and church authorities.
Are there any legal or regulatory challenges regarding the ownership of land by the Catholic Church?
Yes, there have been legal and regulatory challenges regarding the ownership of land by the Catholic Church, including disputes over ownership, leases, and the validity of historical agreements.
Who is the second largest property owner in India?
Armed Forces are the second largest landowners in India.
Who is the third largest property owner in India?
Waqf boards are the third largest landowners in India.
How much property is owned by Waqf Board?
As of December 2022, the total number of Waqf immovable properties entered on the WAMSI portal is 8,65,646. Additionally, 3,53,850 Waqf properties have been mapped using GIS (Geographic Information System) technology.