NEW DELHI: The Central Information Commission has said that the Supreme Court's 1993 order allowing remuneration to imams in mosques from government treasury was in "violation of the Constitution", particularly Article 27, which says that the tax payers money will not be used to favour any particular religion.
Besides, the top court also set a "wrong precedent", which became a point of unnecessary political slugfest and social disharmony in the society, it said, adding this 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.
Dealing with second appeal by noted RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, Information Commissioner Uday Mahurkar noted that the SC in the case between “All India Imam Organisation And ... vs Union Of India And Ors” on 13 May, 1993, opened the doors to special financial benefits from public treasury to only Imams and muezzins in the mosques.
"It is necessary to go into the history when it comes to giving special religious benefits to 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," he said.
"It is necessary to note here that it was the policy of giving special benefits to Muslim community before 1947 that played a key role in encouraging pan-Islamic and fissiparous tendencies in a section of Muslims ultimately leading to the nation’s partition. So giving salaries 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. Steps like giving special religious benefits to 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," the Commissioner said.
The Commissioner directed that a copy of his order be sent to the Union law minister with suitable action to ensure enforcement of provisions of articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution in letter and spirit to keep all religions on par in terms of monthly remuneration to priests of different religions at the cost of the public exchequer -- both central and states -- and also other matters.
He also directed the Delhi Waqf Board to pay a compensation of Rs 25,000 to RTI activist Agrawal for the loss of time and resources in chasing the response to his application. The activist was not being able to get a satisfactory response to his application.
The Commission noted that the Delhi Waqf Board (DWB) gets an annual grant of around Rs 62 crore from the Delhi government while its own monthly income from independent sources is just around Rs 30 lakh.
"So the monthly honorarium of Rs 18,000 and Rs 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 Rs 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.
He said Delhi Waqf Board initially denied salaries to imams but later in a revised reply said it is only an honorarium not a salary.
"There was a clear attempt to hide the information in the initial period by a play of words which showed complete lack of transparency on the part of the respondent authorities in a case which in turn affects the provisions of the Constitution, and also social harmony and uniform applicability of laws for all religions in keeping with the constitutional direction that citizens of all religions be treated equally," he said.
Mahurkar directed the Delhi Waqf Board and office of Delhi Chief Minister to provide responses to the RTI application of Agrawal, who wanted information about the amount spent in salaries of imams in mosques in Delhi.