NEW DELHI: The Central Information Commission has asked the office of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to provide information related to salaries provided to Imams and others in mosques in the national capital as per its previous order.
It also said this is a very serious matter of withholding the legitimate information and the non compliance of the Commission’s order of November 25, 2022.
It noted news reports of such an announcement to pay salaries to Imams and others also in mosques of Delhi other than those under control of Wakf Board.
In an order passed on May 22, Information Commissioner Uday Mahurkar directed the CM Office is to ensure that CIC-verdict dated 25.11.2022 is complied by all concerned public authorities under Government of NCT Delhi within 20 days of the receipt of the order.
Hearing the matter related to non compliance of the order passed on an application by noted RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, the transparency panel noted the officers of Department of Revenue (GNCTD) and Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) during the CIC-hearing expressed their ignorance about public-authority providing salaries/funds for Imams and helpers in mosques of Delhi other than those under control of DWB.
Agrawal requested that CPIO at CMO may kindly be directed to place the matter before the Chief Minister of Delhi to ensure providing complete information as sought in different points of RTI application regarding payment of salaries to Imams and helpers in mosques of Delhi other than those under control of DWB.
The panel also noted the 2019 news reports which stated “Apart from this, Kejriwal also announced a salary hike for imams of mosque that are outside the domain of Delhi Wakf Board. It is for the first
time that salary expense of such mosques would be covered by a government body. The imams of
these mosques will be paid Rs 14,000 per month while the helpers will get Rs 12,000 per month."
In its previous order, the CIC had 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 Agrawal, Information Commissioner had 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 had 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 had 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 had 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 had 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 had also said Delhi Waqf Board initially denied salaries to imams but later in a revised reply said it is only an honorarium not a salary.