How ‘Secular’ is Remuneration to Imams
Almost three decades ago, the Supreme Court of India directed the State to pay a monthly wage to the Imams serving a mosque, under article 21 of the Indian constitution. However, in a state like Punjab, such a system was already in place. As a result the government of Delhi arranged funds to pay them. Three years ago, Kejriwal government has increased it from ten thousand to 18 thousand rupees for the sake of vote banks. Since then there has been a number of applications under the RTI Act before the Waqf Board. Sadly most of them are not answered properly. The RTI activist turned politician Arvind Kejriwal was criticized for this policy when CIC (Central Information Commissioner) has written a letter to Lieutenant Governor in last October. This appeasement politics has compelled former prime minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh to reaffirm that the first right on the resources belongs to the minority community (Muslim). Here, UdayMahurkar, the CIC has raised the serious question on this politics of appeasement that reflects his wisdom and courage together.
Well known right to information activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal has raised a dozen questions on the issue of aid to the priests and imams engaged in temples and mosques. In fact, on 23 January 2019, the chief minister of Delhi had addressed the gathering of Imams. There he has declared the increased remuneration to the Imams and their assistants to manage vote bank for the assembly election. Incomplete information in this regard has provoked Aggarwal to move an appeal before the CIC. During its hearing UdayMahurkar has summoned officers from Delhi Waqf Board, the Revenue Department and the CM office. In a response, on November 2, the Waqf Board has informed Agarwal about not paying any salary. But after the summon, on November 16, thay have produced the annual records. Earlier, the Board used to spend 1.5 to 2.5 crore rupees as their remuneration. Then it increased between nine and ten crores of rupees per annum. The Imams and his assistants practising outside the Waqf Board are paid 14,000 and 12,000 rupees per month, respectively.
The Central Information Commission has been in the focus since that decision on 25 November. The government of Delhi and the Waqf Board have been directed to provide proper information to the petitioner free of cost within one month, in addition to pay a compensation worth 25000 rupees for the violation of citizen’s right to information. The debate on the scope of Article 27 of the Indian Constitution that prohibits such expenditure to please religious bodies on the expense of the State exchequer. Although the Waqf Board and government of Delhi did not challenge this decision, an application to initiate procedure of criminal contempt has reached before R. Venkatramani, attorney general. Whether maneuvering of these elements engaged in politics of appeasement is going to have the desired impact? This is the question at stake.
In the early nineties, the All India Imam Organization approached the apex court in order to obtain remuneration for the services to a mosque. As a consequence, on 13 May 1993, the top court directed the government to pay the Imams as they were paid in Punjab. The Caliph of Baghdad himself used to lead the namaz. When the Imam was entrusted with this responsibility, they got payment for such a noble work. But still there were many Muftis (giving free service) among the Maulanas. The devision bench comprising Justice R.M. Shahi and Justice K. Ramaswamy considered on these issues in order to interpret section 15 and 36 of the Waqf Act and Articles 14, 21 and 23 of the Constitution. According to their verdict the remuneration was necessary to live with dignity. But it does not consider about the provision of Article 27 of the same constitution in order to burden the State exchequer. In fact management of a mosque, like temple trusts, needs to pay them. In that case government would have been responsible for its implementation without wasting its revenue. The CIC has exposed this truth to rectify the mistake without using any abusive term. Those who call it abusive and raise questions on his decency and integrity reveal their own intentions. This policy of appeasement is the result of unnecessary encouragement to the divisive elements.
The public in general are aware of Mahurkar’s services as the journalist and writer, who has explained Savarkar in a persuit of United India (Akhand Bharat) and PM Narendra Modi walking with a billion people. Here, while discharging his official duty as an information commissioner, pointed out the constitutional error that can create the kind of crisis that led to the partition of India in 1947. It needs serious discussion in public, including the parliament and assemblies. The apex court can address this issue in national interest, at the same time initiating contempt proceedings are out of context that may lead to tarnish its own image. Discussion has started among the people in villages on this partial policy. In case the democratic institutions failed to notice this very fact the concept of equality will be in peril that cannot serve national interest.
The CIC verdict has discussed the economic security of people engaged in services of different sects. On one hand, it tried hard to break the silence on payment of the Imams, and on the other hand, it questions the status of the weaker sections serving in the temple and other religious institutions. As such its scope is not limited to a mosque and its leaders. Breaking the barrier of pseudo secularism, it seems to promote the equality, and encourages wider discussion on it. One can hope the decision can pave the way for freedom from the exploitation of weaker section in religious institutions. As such it has been sent to the Union minister for law to take cognizance.
The question related to politics of appeasement is not new in India. Former prime minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh had referred to it on December 9, 2006 while addressing 52nd conference of the NDC (National Development Commission). Today the Waqf Boards are illegally occupying thousands of acres of precious land in different parts of India. The questions pertaining to the Aligarh Muslim University are also not out of its purview. One can hope that the democratic institutions engaged today in twenty-one versus twenty-seven, the two articles of the constitution, can pave the way for economic security of the priestly class, no matter whether serving a temple or a mosque or any other charitable religious institution.