A church body known as Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (hereinafter referred to as COEMAR) which is a body corporate and politic forever, constituted by and under the Charter granted by the Legislature of the State of New York. COEMAR has its registered trust and had been established for the purpose of promoting Christianity outside the area of the United States of America particularly by carrying on and maintaining all forms of religious & charitable work including relationships and cooperation with other Christian churches. Petitioner submits that the object of COEMAR was to establish various churches, schools, hospitals, dispensaries and other religious and charitable institutions in India, which included acquiring of properties for the said objective in India. Petitioner further submits that COEMAR has a religious and charitable trust and for making proper and better provisions for the management, protection, preservation and the use of its properties appointed new Trustee in India being the Church of North India Trust Association, a company incorporated under section 25 of Indian Companies Act, 1956, having its registered office at 6 Pant Marg, New Delhi (hereinafter referred to as the Trust Association).
The Church of North India Trust Association was registered as a company under the Companies Act, 1956, in the year 1976.
In or about 1895, some American Missionaries established a religious institution (Church) at Valsad for propagation of protestant faith of Christian religion and to establish and manage the churches for the people professing that faith. The object of the ‘Brethren Church’ was to propagate the work of the church of the brethren in Western India in order to reveal Christ by means of evangelistic, educational, medical, literary, industrial school, social and charitable activities leading to the establishment of the kingdom of God. A Continuation Committee is said to have been appointed in the year 1930 by the representatives of the Brethren Church and other churches in a Round Table Conference held in New Delhi with a view to consider the modalities and other details for amalgamation of churches. The Committee is said to have worked out a broad basis for the unification of churches which was accepted by the participant churches whereupon a new Committee came into being in the year 1951.
The First District Church of the Brethren in India (Brethren Church) was registered as a religious society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 bearing Registration No.1202/44; the object whereof was to promote the work of the church of the brethren in Western India with the same object wherefor the church was established. Another Round Table Conference is said to have been held in the year 1951 at New Delhi resulting in appointment of a new Committee known as ‘Negotiating Committee’ in order to continue deliberations for the union of churches; five other associations were included in the Committee, namely, The Council of the Baptist Churches in North India, The Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, The Methodist Church (British and Australian Conference), The Methodist Church in Southern Asia and The United Church of Northern India. The Brethren Church (First District Church of the Brethren) was registered as a public trust in Gujarat bearing No.E-643, Bharuch in terms of the BPT Act.
On 29.11.1970, five churches, i.e. (i) the Council of Baptist Church in Northern India, (ii) the Church of Brethren in India, (iii) the Disciples of Christ, (iv) the Methodist Church (British and Australian Conferences) and (v) the Church of India (Anglican, then known as CIPBC) joined together to form the church of Northern India (CNI); that this Union of churches was for the purpose of spiritual life only but, they continued to follow their own church worship and the properties belonging to these churches were being administered by their registered Trusts and did not merge with CNI.
Again the Negotiating Committee made its final recommendations which came to be known as the ‘4th Plan of the Union’ which was published in a book entitled ‘Plan of Church Union in North India and Pakistan’; the principal recommendation of the Committee being that all the uniting churches should be dissolved and united to become one church to be known as “The Church of Northern India” (hereinafter referred to as “the CNI”) which should be the legal continuation and successor of the united churches and all the properties, assets, obligations etc. thereof would vest in or devolve on CNI. The booklet of the 4th Plan is said to have been circulated to the governing bodies of the uniting churches with a view to enable them to deliberate thereover and to take appropriate decision in that behalf. A decision was taken to dissolve uniting Churches and merge the same into one, viz., the Church of Northern India (C.N.I.) so as to make the latter a legal continuation and successor of the United Churches and all the properties, assets, obligations, etc. of these uniting churches would vest in or dissolve on C.N.I. The very fact that a decision having been taken as regard the properties, assets, obligations of the United Churches, the same would mean that they would vest in the trust to be created for the said purpose and not for the benefit of any society.
Despite the above facts, the church of England in India had its legal union with the church of England. As per the Oxford Dictionary, the church of England is the English branch of the Western or Latin church which has rejected the pope’s supremacy since Reformation but retained the episcopacy. ‘The Episcopacy’ is defined in Websters Comprehensive Dictionary as ‘the Government of a Church by Bishops’. To provide for a dissolution of legal union, between the Church of England and Church of England in India and to make provisions consequential thereon, the Indian Church Measures, 1927 were adopted and following the Indian Church Measures, the Indian Church Act was enacted. From the date as provided for severance of Church of England in India from Church of England, the church of England in India came to be known as Indian Church. The General Council was defined to mean the body recognized as such by Bishop of Calcutta and as per Section 6 of the Indian Church Act, the General Council was authorized to appoint such number of persons as they see it fit to represent the Indian Church Trustees. The Indian Church Trustees were authorized to vest any property held by them in any diocesan society or body of the trustees either registered under the Societies Registration Act or the Indian Companies Act.
On or about 17-02-1970, a Resolution bearing No.70/08 is said to have been passed by the majority of members for effecting the dissolution as a society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. The Negotiating Committee thereafter on or about 29-11-1970 took a decision to formally inaugurate the CNI at Nagpur. The Brethren Church allegedly placed the said Resolution No.70/08 at the altar wherein it was explicitly affirmed that the CNI shall be deemed to be the legal continuation and successor of the brethren church and the rights, titles, claims, estates and the interests of the church together with its privileges and obligations shall vest in the CNI as its legal heir on or from the date of inauguration. The Church of North India Trust Association was registered as a company under the Companies Act, 1956, in the year 1976. The Church of North India Trust Association (CNITA) was formed under the Indian Companies Act, 1956 and appointed as the trustee of CNI in 1971
Brethren Church affirmed that C.N.I. would be deemed to be legal continuation and successor of the Brethren Church and rights, title, claims, estates and interest of this Church together with its privileges and obligations shall, as from the date of inauguration, vest in C.N.I. as its legal heir. The Church, thus, ceased to exist as separate entity both as a society and as a trust. Although it is contended that, as provided in the constitution of C.N.I., the Church of North India Trust Association came to be registered as a company under the provisions of the Companies Act in the year 1976 but if the vesting had already taken place in C.N.I. as far back as in the year 1970, the question of trust property vesting in a company would not arise.The Church of North India is the legal continuation and successor of the said Church of Brethren together with the right, title, claim, interest in or over its properties and the constitution, decisions and resolutions of the Church of North India, its Synod and Gujarat Diocesan Council are binding on all the Pastorates on Gujarat which were functioning as local Churches or congregations under the First District Church of Brethren. Orissa Churches of Baptist Missionary Society origin, merged with CNI in 1970 and became Diocese of Cuttack and Diocese of Sambalpur.
Local churches or congregations which desired to function on the basis of the old constitution were at liberty to do so till the 3rd Ordinary Synod of C.N.I. which was to be held in 1977. The members of it may be called CNI Christians.[AIR 2005 SC 2544 : (2005) 3 SCR 1037 : (2005) 10 SCC 760 : JT 2005 (5) SC 202 : (2005) 4 SCALE ]