Bishop accused of selling admissions to church-owned medical school

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A medical education commission has recommended to the Tamil Nadu government bring criminal charges against the Bishop in South Kerala and officials from a church-owned medical college for selling admissions places to the college.

The Hindu newspaper reported on 22 Aug 2019 the Admission Supervisory Committee for Medical Education asked the state to bring charges agains the Rt. Rev. A. Dharmaraj Rasalam and officials of the Dr. Somervell Memorial CSI Medical College, Karakonam, for selling places to aspiring medical students. 

The investigation was launched after 24 students brought charges that they had been promised a place in the medical school after paying upwards of ₹6 million (approximately $84,000) for a place in the MBBS, BDS or MD programs.

The commission found Dr. Abraham was controlling the admission process and most of the complainants had paid the amounts after meeting him. “All the office-bearers and Dr. Abraham were fully aware of the situation and virtually it was wilful cheating,” the findings stated.

This week’s charges follow a July 2011 investigation by an Indian television network over admissions to Somervell Medical College. The Asianet broadcasting network reported that it obtained a list of 50 students admitted to the church-affiliated medical college located on the grounds of the London Missionary Society hospital in Karakonam.  However, the admissions list was drawn up two days before students sat for their entrance exams.

A reporter for Asianet, posing as an official of the Church of South India (CSI), contacted the students on the list and learned that each had made cash payments for a place in the college.  However, the payments were not considered tuition payments and were “off the books.”

Asianet reported that “All those who spoke to us admitted the money was accepted by the CSI management without providing any receipt.”

The funds were collected by “the treasurer of CSI located at the CSI headquarters at LMS in cash. The applicants were clearly told the amount was just a token and annual fees should be paid in extra,” the broadcast said.

The 2011 cash for admissions scandal broke one week before Bishop Rasalam was consecrated. In December 2010, Bishop J.W. Gladstone retired as Bishop in South Kerala and Moderator of the CSI.  The principal of the Kerala United Seminary, the Rev. Dr. G. Sobhanam—who was also vice-chairman of the medical school’s board, was subsequently elected by the diocesan synod and confirmed by the CSI’s general synod as the new bishop.  However, Bishop-elect Sobhanam died on March 26, 2011.

The runner up in the election, the Rev. Dharmaraj Rasalam, was appointed bishop of the diocese l in place of Dr. Sobhanam, and was consecrated on July 23.  When the 2011 scandal broke anti-corruption activists were hopeful the new bishop would clean up the diocese.

In 2011 the lay-led anti-corruption group, the CCC stated this was “an unprecedented opportunity to clean up the massive corruption in medical admissions and boost the finances of the diocese should he choose to do so. The big question is whether he has both the motivation and the ability to take on such a challenge.”

The CCC stated that “selling seats in educational institutions is a major source of corruption within the CSI. It not only weakens the moral fibre of the church and those who administer it but also deprives the institution of crores of rupees that would have otherwise come to it every year.”

In response to the 2011 scandal, the government asked the state medical education board to investigate, which led to the finding that he corrupt practices unveiled in 2011 continued under the new bishop.