It is widely known that the Indian Government owns the most Land in India(as per a 2017 Hindustan Times report; the government owns at least 13,505 square km as per the information provided by 41/51 Union Ministries and 22 of over 300 public sector enterprises).
But when it comes to non-government entities, we think of real estate moguls, industrialists with various factories established all over India but the surprising fact is it is none of these organizations which own the most land in India after our government, it is the Catholic Church of India. They are a conglomerate of various Christian trusts and charitable societies and to spread the message of Christianity; they have 16 bishops, 9322 Diocesan priests, 6765 religious priests, 2528 religious brothers, and a whopping 50112 religious sisters.
So what is the value of the and they approximately own? And how have they managed to amass a lot of land from a historical perspective? What are the various issues pertaining to it? We shall discuss these here.
Who Is the Largest Landowner in India?
The Catholic Church of India is the largest landowner of Non-agricultural land after the government of India. The church owns lots of properties throughout India. The total valuation of it is equivalent to India’s navy budget back then (roughly around 20,000 crore rupees). It is also one of the largest non-government employers in India.
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 s 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
One of the major issues about the ownership of the various land assets pertaining to the Catholic Church of India is its legality of it. While the Government of India did issue a circular in 1965 that the leases given by the British government won't be valid but at the same time, strict efforts have not been taken to enforce that one as of now.
This lack of transparency regarding the owners has also been a raging topic amongst the Catholic community itself. One of the leading Catholic politicians of Goa, Eduardo Faleiro, has talked extensively about bringing a separate law to govern Church properties and far more transparency in how the Church manages its assets.
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”.
This has also led to land scams occasionally, as shown in 2018, when the leading authorities of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, a particular sect within the Catholic Church of India-based in Kerala. They were accused of being involved in transactions that had black money.
Thus, this article gives a brief purview of how the Catholic Church of India has managed to be the largest landowner after the Indian Government, and the various historical factors associated with it. This article also tells us about the various issues regarding the legality and transparency of the land assets.
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.