The businessman priestshttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/the-businessman-priests-5663115/

The businessman priests

In just over 10 years, priests under the Diocese of Jalandhar have set up 15 private businesses. Their annual turnover: Rs 50 to 60 crore, finds out The Indian Express.

The businessman priests
Father Anthony Madassery established the Navjeevan Charitable Society in 2008 after taking permission from the then Bishop. (Express photo)

A series of events that began unfolding in the night of March 29, has put a spotlight on the private businesses being run by the Church priests.

That night, a team of Khanna police claimed to have recovered Rs 9.66 crore “unaccounted hawala money” during a raid the residence of a priest of Diocese of Jalandhar. The priest, Father Anthony Madassery, however levelled a counter-allegation and accused the policemen of embezzling Rs 6.65 crore by showing that only Rs 9.66 core has been recovered. He claimed that the police forcibly took away Rs 16.65 crore that he had earned from the sale of books via a company that he runs.

The Diocese came out in support of Father Anthony and even the Bishop confirmed that the priest had taken due permission before starting the book sale business. As the police and the Church probe the allegations and the counter-allegations, one thing that has grabbed the attention of the masses is the slew of businesses that the priests are running.

Sample this:

In last 10 years, at least 15 private companies in the form of partnership, proprietorship, enterprises, non-banking financial company (NBFC), NGO, and a TV Channel have been set up by eight to nine priests of the Diocese based in Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Amritsar. The total annual turn over of these companies is pegged at Rs 50-60 crore.

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While the new generation of priests have no problems with this trend, the old school of thought feels that it is been converting the Church into a combination of ‘religion and business’ affecting its ‘religious and social’ image.

Going by the records of Diocese of Jalandhar, the first seeds of a business was sown with the setting up of an NGO – Navjeevan Charitable Society. The society got registered on June 16, 2008 under the Societies Registration Act (XXI of 1860). The idea of setting up the NGO was mooted by Father Anthony with objectives such as skill development, women empowerment, children welfare and self employment for youth. The then Bishop, Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, had granted the permission to set up the charitable society.

“The society’s aim was to collect donations from several government, non government entities and educational institutions under the Diocese. While collecting donations, which were not enough to run its charitable activities, the Navjeevan Charitable Society came to know about the book publishers, who were minting money by selling books and stationary to the schools run by the Diocese. The society sought donations from these publishers, but didn’t get a good response,” said a senior priest living here for past 40 years. The priest added that the publishers were already giving donations to directors of the schools, who were also priests, so that they continue buying books from them.

“It was then that Father Anthony discussed the matter with Bishop Couto and sought permission to start their own business of selling books and stationary to the schools under the Diocese,” the senior priest said. “Father Anthony then set up ‘Navjeevan Enterprises’ in 2009. He is the proprietor of the company. In the year that it was established, Navjeevan Enterprises sold books to nine schools,” he said, adding that the Navjeevan Enterprises has its office in Guru Gobind Singh Avenue, Jalandhar.

The Diocese later allowed the firm to expand its business to other schools too.

Looking at the profit that they garnered through Navjeevan Enterprises, the idea of setting up several other firms cropped up.

The businessman priests
He and three other priests then set up Sahodhaya in 2014. Sahodhaya now has five entities under it. (Express photo)

In 2009, another firm ‘Words Worth Educational And Private Limited (Publishing House)’ was set up by Father Anthony in partnership with a private person, Sunil Bhaskar of Delhi, by investing Rs 20 lakh. The company was registered in Delhi and is still publishing few books out of the total 150 titles being supplied by the priests’ company to the schools. The idea was to set up a full fledged publishing house but some how it did not work out well and remains a small entity with a turnover of Rs 44 lakh. The purpose, a Church officials said, was to bring down the cost of the text books by publishing them “in house” instead procuring from local market.

After this, several other firms were established.

In April 2011, EduZone Multimedia Private Limited was set up in a partnership by Father Anthony and Delhi Based Sunil Bhaskar. This company, also registered in Delhi, was to supply smart class boards and related materials.

In the same year, two priests, Father Basil, who is now in Muktsar, and Father Jhon George, who is now in Ajnala (Amritsar), launched a TV channel – Prarthana Bhawan TV – under the Diocese of Jalandhar with its head office in Ludhiana where they were posted. The channel’s content is religious porgammes including, preaching of Christianity, educational programmes, and such.

In 2012, Bishop Anil Couto got a transfer and Bishop Franco Mullakkal joined the Diocese in 2013.

The major group of companies under the Diocese came up in 2014 when a partnership firm — ‘Sahodhaya Partnership Company’ — with its head office at Ludhiana and sub office at Jalandhar was established. Father Anthony, Father Jose P, Father Paul and Father Scaria are its partners-cum-directors.

Under Sahodhya, five entities were registered which included Sahodhaya Text Books and Stationery (2014), which supplies books to all most all English-medium schools out of the total 70 schools under the Diocese; Sahodhaya Securities (2015), which provides security staff to the educational institutes of the Diocese; Sahodhaya Construction (2017), which takes the up construction works of Diocese buildings and schools; Sahodhaya Garments (2016), which supplies school uniforms; and Sahodhaya Sports Goods Manufacturing (2015), which deals in skill training in manufacturing of sports goods and marketing. The office of all these five entities is located in double-storey rented building at Laddhewali locality of Jalandhar.

On May 13, 2016, three priests launched an NBFC – ‘Navjeevan Nidhi Limited – with its directors being Father Anthony, Father Joseph and one more. Its office is housed in a double-storey building in the narrow lane of Karol Bagh.

In 2016, Sahodhya Transport, a separate company was registered by Father Jose P, Father Joseph and Father Paul with the purpose of providing buses to schools. Currently 30 buses of the company are ferrying children of various schools of the Diocese.

One more company was floated in the name of ‘Smart Solutions’ in 2017-18 to provide smart boards, computers and other software solutions to schools by Father Jose P and others.

In 2017, SHINE (Sacred Heart Institution National Entrance), a coaching centre, was opened of which Father Anthony is a director. It is Ludhiana based and providing coaching to the aspirants of IAS, MBBS, IITs, and IIMs. Around 180 aspirants were coached here in past three years. The annual fee being Rs 60,000 each.

Also, one Amritsar based priest has been running a welding unit to provide grills to the construction company.

“It seems that these priests are now competing with each other and want to open more and more companies,” said a senior priest at the Diocese, who said he was surprised at the recovery of huge cash from Father Anthony.

One of the oldest priests in Punjab said that this trend was not good as it will in the longer run tarnish the image of the Church.

A young priest, who was ordained a few years ago, said that there was no harm if the Church permitted private business, but one should take care not hurt but the image of the Church.

Father Anthony, who is running maximum number of companies (11 entities under Sahodhaya, Navjeevan and SHINE), told the Sunday Express that all his firms are running for charity purpose. Under Navjeevan Charitable Society, he has been giving scholarship to hundreds of poor students. “We have given employment to 150 persons under Sahodhaya Securities, 70 in the company that sells books, and around 500 others in the construction business, sports and garments firm and coaching centre,” he said, asking what wrong were they doing by saving the youth from falling prey to drugs and other bad habits. “Under NBFC, we have been giving loans to such poor people who could not get it from banks,” he said.

Father Jhon George, who started the TV Channel with Father Basil, said that the purpose was not “any profit making” but to educate people about Christianity and morality.

Father Jose P also defended his company and said that “our only purpose” was to provide safety to the children while they are travelling in school buses.

The long list of firms they run

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2008: Father Anthony sets up Navjeevan Charitable Society, an NGO.
2009: Navjeevan Enterprises Company comes up under the proprietorship of Father Anthony.
2009: ‘Words Worth Educational And Private Limited (Publishing House)’ established by Father Anthony in partnership with Sunil Bhaskar, a Delhi based individual
2011: Father Anthony and Delhi-based Sunil Bhaskar set up EduZone Multimedia Private Limited
2011: Two priests, Father Basil and Father John George, establish Prarthana Bhawan TV Channel
2014: Sahodhaya Partnership Company is established by Father Anthony, Father Jose P, Father Paul and Father Scaria under which Sahodhaya Text Books and Stationery was set up.
2015: They set up Sahodhaya Securities
2015: Sahodhaya Sports Goods Manufacturing comes up
2016: Sahodhaya Garments established
2016: Father Anthony, Father Joseph and one more set up NBFC called ‘Navjeevan Nidhi Limited
2016: Sahodhaya Transport set up by Father Jose P, Father Joseph and Father Paul.
2017: Sahodhaya Construction is established
2017: Smart Solutions formed to provide school boards, computers and other software solution to schools
2017: Father Anthony sets up SHINE (Sacred Heart Institution National Entrance), a coaching centre in Ludhiana