The Madras High Court observed that a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India would be maintainable against Church of South India (CSI) as it discharges ‘public functions’.

The full bench was answering a reference following divergent views taken by two division benches of the Court regarding the maintainability of a writ petition against the Church of South India (CSI).

The plea addressed management issues within the CSI Synod and an associated association alleging manipulation in electoral processes, corruption among key figures, fraudulent activities, and improper appointments. The specific concerns involved attempts to manipulate elections, extend retirement ages to retain power, and misuse authority for personal gain. The petitioner also accused certain individuals of financial misconduct and interference in educational institutions.

A bench of Justice R. Subramanian, Justice P.T.Asha and Justice N. Senthil Kumar thus observed, “From the conspectus of the above principles and judgments which describe a public duty, it is amply evident that the respondent apart from its ecclesiastical functions, is running and managing various schools, colleges and hospitals. The respondent is definitely discharging the public function and if any action taken by them which is detrimental to the discharge of this duty, a writ petition would definitely be maintainable. Unlike, Article 32 of the Constitution of India any person even if he is not a person aggrieved can invoke the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India…”.

“The petitioner is aggrieved by the fact that respondents 1 and 2, by manipulating the electoral process are nominating persons of questionable character, especially against whom criminal proceedings have been directed. Further, an amendment to increase the age of superannuation has been put in place to ensure that the persons now in management can continue for a further period unopposed. The activities of such persons would seriously impair the standards of education as also the institutions. Therefore, taking note of the fact that it is these persons who constitute the educational agency, the writ petition is maintainable”.

Advocate S. Thankasivan appeared for the petitioner and Senior Advocate V. Prakash appeared for the respondent.

In the present matter, the petitioner had argued on constitutional provisions governing CSI’s electoral procedures. It was argued that the process for electing office bearers must start promptly due to the imminent expiration of current office bearers' terms. The petitioner alleged illegal supersessions of elected bodies to manipulate the electoral process and ensure the re-election of certain respondents. These respondents, if re-elected, would oversee management of various educational and healthcare institutions associated with CSI. An array of cases were referred to where the court upheld the writ petition against a college management, emphasizing the public character of educational institutions receiving government aid.

While the respondents argued that the writ petition pertained to the election to the council, which was clearly outlined in the constitution of the first respondent. It was contended that the petitioner, not being an affected party, lacked locus to file the petition and hasn't demonstrated any public interest or breach of fundamental rights warranting the court's intervention under Article 226. Prakash cited a Supreme Court judgment in Kaushal Kishor v. State of Utter Pradesh and Others (2023) 4 SCC 1, which addressed issues of transferring a trial and registering complaints against government officials for outraging modesty. It was emphasized that the petitioner failed to establish a similar level of urgency or public interest in the matter.

However, the considering the averments made by the parties, the bench directed in the order,Therefore, the writ petition against respondents 1 and 2 who has been struck off, is maintainable where the action of these respondents which has a direct impact on the educational institutions/hospitals being run by the respondents”.


Petitioner: Advocate S. Thankasivan

Respondent: Senior Advocate V. Prakash assisted by Advocate Adrian D.Rozario

Cause Title: D. Bright Joseph v. Church of South India (CSI) Synod Secretariat

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