HC defers proceedings on order on church takeover

A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court deferred till January 15 the further proceedings based on a single judge order directing the Central Reserve Police Force to take over the Kothamangalam Marthoman church if the Ernakulam District Collector did not comply with its earlier order this regard by January 8.

The Bench comprising Justice Alexander Thomas and Justice T.R. Ravi passed the order on an appeal filed by the State government against the single judge’s order. The single judge had passed the order on a contempt of court petition filed by the Orthodox faction against the Ernakulam District Collector for not complying with an earlier Hight Court directive.

‘Beyond power of judge’

State Attorney K.V. Sohan contended that the directive was beyond the power of the single judge. It amounted to interference with the sovereign power of the State over law and order issues. He further argued that if the court found that the action of the Collector was contemptuous, the single judge could only refer it to a Division Bench. In fact, the single judge’s order had violated the rules on the contempt of court proceedings.

The Bench orally observed that the issues raised by the State government in the appeal required a serious hearing. It would examine whether the single judge could issue a directive of this nature in a contempt proceeding at the admission stage. The court orally observed that the contempt of court rules mandated that if a condemner had not tendered an unconditional apology and if there was prima facie case, the single judge might refer it to the Division Bench dealing with contempt of court cases for further action.

The government in its appeal pointed out that the action of the court was a challenge to the Constitutional power enjoyed by the government to deal with law and order situation. The single judge ought to have directed the Chief Secretary to initiate appropriate action if the Collector did not comply with its directive. The single judge’s order had the effect of encroaching on the power of the State government, the appeal pointed out.

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