SC hauls up Kerala HC for overlooking order on Malankara Church dispute

In a strongly worded remark, the Supreme Court on September 17 disapproved of a Kerala High Court order that went against its judgement on the Malankara Church dispute in Kerala.

The Supreme Court has said that Kerala is a part of the Indian Territory and the Kerala High Court is bound to follow the law declared by the top court.

In 2017, the Supreme Court put out a verdict that 1,100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the orthodox faction and not the Jacobite faction, as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines. But in many of these churches, the orthodox faction is a numerical minority compared to the Jacobite faction. Hence, the Jacobite faction claims that since they are the majority, they should have the right to manage and carry out rituals in the churches.

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In 2018, the spat between orthodox and Jacobite factions turned violent in Kothamangalam Mar Thoma Cheriya Pally, in Eranakulam district after the Jacobite faction did not allow the newly appointed vicar of the orthodox faction to enter the church. Hundreds of Jacobite faction members also protested in front of the church demanding justice.

In another incident, a group of Jacobite faction members attempted to kill themselves in the church demanding to cancel the entry of the orthodox faction inside the church. The Kerala High Court set out an interim order which said that prayer services at the churches shall be performed alternately by the two rival factions of the Malankara Church.

The Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice Arun Mishra and MR Shah was furious at this interim order and noted that instead of implementing apex court’s order, the state government and chief secretary had passed contrary directions.

“Kerala being Indian Territory, all concerned are bound to act accordingly. It’s made clear to all concerned, more so to the courts, that in future the violation of judgment and order will be viewed seriously. Let similar matters, which are pending, be decided following aforesaid judgment and order. There can be no further litigation as the decision in representative suit is binding,” said Arun Mishra, one of the justices on the bench.

As per Article 141 of the constitution, the law declared by the apex court is binding on all the courts and according to Article 144, civil and judicial authorities within the territory of India should act in aid of the Supreme Court. The bench wondered how the high court judge passed the interim order that ran contrary to the 2017 decision of the apex court.

“We are not able to understand what kind of judicial discipline is reflected while passing the impugned order, which should not have been passed at all. We restrain all the civil courts and the high court in Kerala not to pass any order in violation of the mandate of this court’s decision. It is made clear to all concerned, more so to the courts, that in future the violation of judgment and order (is) to be viewed seriously. Let similar matters which are pending be decided following aforesaid judgment and order. There can be no further litigation as the decision in representative suit is binding,” the bench said.

It said that copy of its order be forthwith circulated to all the courts in Kerala and the authorities concerned by the Registrar General of the Kerala High Court.

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