The 1993 Supreme Court order allowing remuneration to imams in mosques was in “violation of the Constitution” and besides setting a “wrong precedent”, has become a point of unnecessary political slugfest and social disharmony, the Central Information Commission has said.
Information Commissioner Uday Mahurkar noted that the order violated constitutional provisions that state “taxpayers’ money will not be used to favour any particular religion” when he heard an RTI request from an activist seeking information about the salaries paid to imams by the Delhi government and the Delhi Waqf Board.
In 1993, the Supreme Court ordered the waqf board to pay imams in mosques it administered after the All India Imam Organization filed a petition.
In order to maintain equality among all religions in terms of monthly remuneration to priests of various religions at the expense of the public exchequer — both central and states — and other matters, he has directed that a copy of his order be sent to the Union law minister with appropriate action.
“Further with regard to the judgment by the Supreme Court in the case between the ‘All India Imam Organisation and … vs Union Of India And Ors’ on 13 May, 1993, that opened the doors to special financial benefits from public treasury to only imams and muezzins in mosques, the commission observes that the highest court of the country in passing this order acted in violation of the provisions of the Constitution, particularly Article 27, which says tax payers money will not be used to favour any particular religion,” Mahurkar said.
The commission notes that the said judgment sets a wrong precedent in the country and has become a point of unnecessary political slugfest and also social disharmony in the society,” the information commissioner said.
Subhash Agrawal, an RTI activist, will get a payment of $25,000 from the Delhi Waqf Board as compensation for the time and resources he used to pursue a response to his application. The activist was having trouble receiving an appropriate response to his application.
“It is necessary to go into the history when it comes to giving special religious benefits to the Muslim community by the State. A religious (Islamic) nation Pakistan was born out of the demand of a section of Indian Muslims for partition of India along religious lines. Despite Pakistan choosing to be a religious (Islamic) nation, India chose a Constitution guaranteeing equal rights to all religions,” Mahurkar said.
So giving remuneration to imams and others only in mosques, amounts to “not just betraying the Hindu community and members of other non-Muslim minority religions, but also encouraging pan-Islamist tendencies amongst a section of Indian Muslims which are already visible”, the information commissioner said.
Steps such as giving special religious benefits to the Muslim community only like the one taken up in the present matter, in fact, severely affects interfaith harmony as they invite contempt for the Muslims as a whole from a section of ultra nationalist population, Mahurkar said.
He said the Delhi Waqf Board (DWB) gets an annual grant of around ₹62 crore from the Delhi government while its own monthly income from independent sources is just around ₹30 lakh.
“So the monthly honorarium of ₹18,000 and ₹16,000 being given to the imams and muezzins of DWB mosques in Delhi is being paid by the Delhi government virtually from the tax payers money which in turn is in sharp contrast with the example quoted by the appellant in which the priest of a Hindu temple is getting a paltry ₹2,000 per month from the trust controlling the said temple,” he said.
Mahurkar said those who justify such steps in the name of protection to religious minorities raise a question that if a particular religious minority has a right to protection, the majority community too has a right to protection in a multi-religious country where it is incumbent that the rights of the members of all religions are protected equally in the interest of inter-faith harmony and unity of the nation.
The commission’s rulings, which are the last arbiter of appeals and complaints under the RTI Act, are frequently contested in high courts through writ petitions.
By amending the RTI Act, the government reduced the benefits, compensation, and tenure of information commissioners from being comparable to those of central election commissioners or to those of bureaucrats employed at their pay bracket. The RTI Act’s five-year fixed term for information commissioners was also cut to three years.