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Andhra Pradesh: state to table bill to protect Christian property rights

ICC Note: New bill designed to protect Christians’ property may end up taking away the ability of churches to manage their own affairs.

by Nirmala Carvalho

9/20/07 India (AsiaNews) – The Andhra Pradesh government has decided to enact a bill in the coming session of the state legislative assembly to protect Christian property rights, but Christian leaders are very concerned that without proper consultation with the Christian community the new law might limit the Church’s ability to manage its own affairs.

The bill comes after the state set up a parliamentary committee in 2005 to investigate the illegal seizure of properties held by institutes and schools run by Christian missionaries.

The committee was tasked with formulating measures to protect the minority community against illegal actions like building on Church-owned land, seizure of Christian-owned buildings, expropriation and sale of Christian-held real estate in the state’s various districts.

As part of the process Andhra Pradesh’s chief minister instructed state officials to organise town meetings and public forums to gather suggestions and opinions about the bill, bringing in Christian NGOs, religious leaders, organisations and intellectuals in five or six locations across the state.

However, whilst expressing appreciation for the government’s approach, local leaders of the Catholic Church have complained that they have never been consulted.

Fr. Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (APFC), attended last Friday a meeting of the Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue of the Andhra Pradesh Bishops’ Council (APBC).

“We welcomed the government’s interest in protecting Christian properties but no party to the process has contacted us despite our requests,” he told AsiaNews.

“Neither the APFC, nor the APBC will accept legislation, nor board, to interfere in the Church’s right to freely manage its own properties.”

Both the APFC and APBC are ecumenical organisations bringing together Lutheran, Catholic and other Christian denominations.