Ever since the faithful began respecting the clergy, I feel that they had been cheated by the red hats. The Rules and Regulations of Catholic Association of Bengal is a solid example of Clergy domination over the faithful. Same is the case with almost all Church affiliated laymen associations in India. Shri Isaac Harold Gomes (Kolkotta) has presented a beautiful review of CAB functioning. Joseph Mattappally – Asso. editor
Isaac Harold Gomes
Catholic Association of Bengal (hereinafter referred to as CAB) having its Registered Office at 9/3, Middleton Row, Kolkata 700071, got itself registered on 24th July 2008 as a Society under the West Bengal Societies Registration Act, 1961. It claims to be India’s oldest Laity Organisation established in 1911-. However, nowhere in its Memorandum and Articles of Association the date and year of inception (1911) is mentioned. No chronological records of the office bearers are available.
CAB’s Registration Number is S/1L/53704 and Permanent Account Number (PAN) is AAAAC6116C. It also says it has a certificate of Exemption u/s 80G (5)(vi) of the IT Act. But neither its Registration Number nor its 80G Exemption Certificate Number is printed on the letterheads and/or money receipts.
CAB conducts election of its office bearers every three years. On the expiry of the three-year term of the office bearers elected on 16th September 2012, fresh election was held at CAB’s Annual General Meeting on 27th September 2015 in the presence of Archbishop Thomas D’Souza, Ex-Officio Chairman and two members of the Election Committee viz. Ms Nibedita Halder Chairperson and Mr James Lingam.
Clause 1: The Election Committee shall consist of not more than three members, one of whom shall be the Chairperson of the Election Committee. The Election Tribunal shall consist of not more than 3 members one of whom shall be the Chairperson of the Election Tribunal. No person who seeks election to any office, shall be appointed as a member of the Election Committee or Election Tribunal. The members appointed to the Election Committee or the Election Tribunal, shall have a rudimentary knowledge and experience of the working of CAB, its Constitution and its functions and may be a member of the Executive Committee
Clause 3: For eligibility, candidates seeking elections for any elective office in CAB shall have to be Lay Catholics resident of the Archdiocese of Kolkata, above 25 years of age from any of the categories listed below:
Executive Committee Members (Article X)
Life Members (Article III 2 c)
Benefactors (Article III 2 d)
Patron members (Article III 2 e)
Clause 4: “the two categories of voters shall be:
a. Members of the CAB Executive Committee (as in Article X)
b. Benefactors and Patron Members (as in Article III 2 d & e) “.
Please note the contradiction between Clauses 3 and 4 of Article XXII, where a Life Member can contest an election but without having any Voting Rights! Is it not outrageous?
Very surprisingly CAB President Mr Alexander Anthony and Ms Nibedita Halder, the newly appointed Chairperson of the Election Committee interpreted the above provision as double voting rights for Patrons and Benefactors – one as Patron or Benefactor and one as Executive Committee Member. Patrons and Benefactors become VIP members of CAB on payment of Rs 50,000/- (Rupees Fifty Thousand Only) and Rs 25,000/- (Rupees Twenty-five Thousand Only) respectively. This means they get voting rights by sheer money power. Strangely, the pillars of CAB, Life Members who comprise 656 in strength, do not have any voting rights.
Objection letters to stop this corrupt Double Voting System, along with a demand for voting rights for life members were written on 14th August 2015 to Chairperson of Election Committee. However, Ms Nibedita Halder, the Chairperson totally twisted the meaning of the election provisions to suit the ulterior motives of CAB President and his group of Executive Members. Even the Archbishop supported this totally arbitrary voting system by citing past precedence. When the 100+ Life Members who were present at the AGM insisted on “One Person One Vote” under Representation of the People Act 1951, and also demanded that they be given Voting Rights, the Archbishop bluntly turned down their just demand by saying he “did not favour drastic changes”. He slammed the door on further debate on voting reform and pushed through the “One person Two Votes” system for some members. The results were a foregone conclusion and a cold-blooded murder of “Justice”! It may be noted that this drama was enacted without the mandatory constitution and presence of the members of the Election Tribunal as mentioned in Article XXII point 1 of the CAB Memorandum and Articles of Association, which says: “The Election Tribunal shall consist of not more than 3 members one of whom shall be the Chairperson of the Election Tribunal.”
SO THE ABSENCE OF THE ELECTION TRIBUNAL ITSELF AT THE TIME OF ELECTION RENDERS THE WHOLE ELECTION NULL AND VOID.
Members were aghast at this attitude of the Archbishop who in different forums swears by “Transparency” and “honesty”. They were shocked that in spite of strong protest, CAB was allowed to be manipulated and controlled by Eugene Gonsalves & family and his coterie of 35-odd Executive Committee Members, Benefactors and Patrons. Now after the September 2015 election farce, there is not a single dissenting voice in the Executive Committee. Absolute power leads to absolute corruption. They were particularly disgusted at the manner the Archbishop allowed Eugene Gonsalves, erstwhile President of CAB and currently President of All India Catholic Union headquartered in Goa, and his wife Vienna, the arbitrarily elected Honorary Treasurer, to be on the Rs 43 Lac CAB Corpus Fund Committee and convert CAB into a family business. On specific queries regarding the FDs during presentation of Audited Accounts, the Honorary Treasurer mentioned that Eugene Gonsalves, Patron, wanted to take an FD of Rs 17 Lac named Homage to Mother Teresa out of the CAB books of accounts and had insisted on a majority resolution being passed at the CAB Executive Committee Meeting that the amount be “struck off” the Balance Sheet of the Association as it did not belong to CAB! This was stalled as Isaac Gomes, the Honorary Treasurer, strongly objected to this move.
Isn’t it fishy that the FD of Rs 17 Lac dated 24th March 2011 which was incorporated into the Balance Sheet on 31 March 2011 by Eugene Gonsalves himself in his capacity as the then CAB President, was sought to be suddenly “Struck off” the books of accounts after five years by the same person? At the AGM, the CAB President could not even produce the original FD as it is still with Eugene Gonsalves. As per standard protocols of any registered society, FDs and other banking transactions are to be signed by the incumbent elected office bearers. Very strangely in this case, it was Eugene Gonsalves who though not an office bearer, was one of the two signatories, the other being Archbishop Emeritus Lucas Sircar, as claimed by Eugene (Evidence is available on Eugene’s statement during the debate on 21 June 2015 Executive Meeting). A discreet enquiry at the bank revealed there were two other signatories (and not Archbishop Emeritus Lucas Sircar) besides Eugene. This means Eugene told a big lie and that he can walk away with the money any time in collusion with the other signatories (both senior priests but not CAB members and Office Bearers as only Lay persons can be the Association’s members and office bearers). The CAB President and Vice President-1, are aware of this risk. In spite of the matter having been brought out in the open, the Archbishop declared Eugene Gonsalves, Chairman of the Corpus Fund!
Members have challenged the whole election process by sending letters (letters annexed separately) with the following objections:
- Several members were allowed to cast votes twice (one vote as Patron / Benefactor Member and one more as Executive Committee Member). This is in direct contravention of Representation of People's Act 1951 which clearly states that at any election the principle of one person one vote must be followed.
- The Chairperson of Election Committee did not read out the rules, regulations, guidelines and procedures for the election. Voters' List was not put up in a prominent place in the Hall.
- Names of candidates were NOT put up or read out.
- There was no independent election observer to oversee the conduct of elections.
- The counting of votes was not done publicly in front of a neutral observer. It was done privately without any tally or display of votes. Mrs Vienna Gonsalves who was a candidate herself, was unabashedly standing very close to Ms Nibedita, Chairperson, while the counting was on. This was absolutely unethical. The Chair winked at this violation too.
- Life members were denied voting rights but patrons and benefactors were allowed to vote which means those who pay more get voting rights to call the shots and manipulate the equation. It was mentioned in full open house, by Eugene Gonsalves, the erstwhile President and presently President of All India Catholic Union, that Life Members were not given voting rights as they might sell their votes for cash. The whole house vehemently objected to this and challenged Eugene for this derogatory remark on the integrity of Life Members. Strangely, Archbishop Thomas D’Souza who chaired the meeting was silent. The two-member Election Committee too did not object to this slanderous remark.
Through the present voting system which is controlled by a coterie, CAB, an association of Catholic persons, is being converted into a closely controlled family business, with the majority members (life members, the pillars) having no say at all. This malpractice cannot be allowed to go on in a 104-year-old Catholic Organisation. Only by calling an Extra Ordinary General Meeting, amendment to the Memorandum and Articles of Association to plug the gaping loopholes and implementing internationally accepted “One Person One Vote” norm, transparency can be ensured. Relevant correspondences in this regard are given separately.