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The Kerala High Court has imposed costs of Rs. 25,000 on a petitioner challenging the constitutionality of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canons and its applicability in India.
The Code of Canons is a codification of Canon Law that applies to the Eastern Catholic Churches affiliated to the Catholic Church.
An agriculturist having an affiliation to a political party, the petitioner Anoop MS sought a declaration that the Code of Canons, which confers power upon the Vatican over properties of churches situated in the country, is unconstitutional and opposed to the sovereignty of India. It was also contended that the Pope can have no say in the transaction of Church properties situated in India.
It was further submitted before the High Court that properties of the Church are administered as public trusts. Therefore, the alienation and transfer of those assets should be only in accordance with the leave of the court, obtained under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
While dismissing the petition, the Bench of Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice AK Jayasankaran Nambiar observed,
“…it is necessary to observe at the outset that India is a secular country which guarantees fundamental freedom under Article 26 of the Constitution, to every religious denomination to own and acquire movable and immovable properties, provided such administration of properties is in accordance with the Indian Laws.”
The Bench further stated that so long as the administration of the Church properties is done in accordance with Indian laws, the Court’s intervention would not be warranted, except in situations contemplated under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Even if the courts were to interfere, the High Court stated, the aggrieved would have to first approach a civil court.
It went on to observe,
“In the instant case, the litigant is not an aggrieved party who belongs to the particular denomination. Moreover, this is also not the appropriate court to raise grievance pertaining to Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The Court’s perception here is that motive of this PIL is extraneous and perhaps cheap publicity.”
Deprecating the misuse of the High Court in the strongest terms, the Bench went on to dismiss the PIL with costs of Rs. 25,000.
“In the light of the dicta laid down by the Supreme Court and finding the Writ Petition to be a frivolous one, we deem it appropriate to dismiss the same by imposing a cost of Rs.25,000/- (Rupees Twenty five thousand only), to discourage the litigant from filing such frivolous PIL in future. The cost amount shall be paid to the High Court Legal Services Committee within two weeks from today, failing which, revenue recovery proceedings should be initiated against the petitioner.”