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Does paying salaries to Imams amount to ‘betraying’ the Hindu community'?

Remarks of Central Information Commissioner (CIC), Mahurkar followed the Delhi Waqf Board submitted data that revealed that the wages of imams and mosque helpers increased four-fold since 2014 after the Kejriwal-lef AAP government came to power in the national capital.

Sabrangindia 30 Nov 2022

Central Information Commissioner (CIC), Mahurkar followed the  Delhi Waqf Board submitted data that revealed that the wages of imams and mosque helpers increased

New Delhi: In a sharp set of remarks that appear to go far beyond his brief as a Central Information Commissioner (IC), Uday Mahurkar, who was appointed by a Narendra Modi-led panel in 2020, recently said that the payment of honorariums to Imams and helpers in Delhi mosques is akin to encouraging “pan-Islamist tendencies”. Mahurkar’s controversial observations came while hearing an appeal on an RTI application in which the Delhi Wakf Board disclosed that the salaries of Imams and muezzins in the national capital had risen nearly four-fold since 2014.

Kejriwal’s and Imams

It was on February 16, 2022 that activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal had filed a right to information (RTI) application with the Delhi government’s Department of Revenue. In his application, Agarwal sought answers to 12 queries, citing a  Zee Report of 2019 which noted that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal declared that the salaries of imams and helpers in Delhi Waqf Board mosques would be increased.

According to the Zee report, Kejriwal had declared that the Delhi Waqf Board would increase the salaries of imams in mosques which came under it from Rs 10,000 to Rs 18,000 per month and the salaries of helpers in these mosques from Rs 9,000 to Rs 16,000 per month

In his RTI application, Agarwal had asked for detailed information on the Delhi government’s decision to pay salaries, honorariums or monetary benefits of any other form to imams and others in these mosques. He sought information on the total number of mosques in Delhi where such benefits were being provided; the amount of benefits being paid; the government’s year-wise spend on such salaries, honorariums or monetary benefits; and the name of competent authority under the Delhi government for providing these benefits.

Agarwal had also asked to know if such monetary benefits were being provided by the Delhi government to Priests of temples of all other minority religions as well as those of Hindu Temples; the total number of such Gurdwaras, Churches or Temples of (other) minority religions and Hindu temples; and the name of competent authority for approving such benefits.

Not satisfied with the reply received from the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) and the non-adjudication of his first appeal by the First Appellate Authority (FAA), Agarwal then filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission. During the hearing of the second appeal, Agarwal submitted that incomplete information had been furnished to him, that too after a delay of approximately nine months and after much “dithering”, which he claimed indicated attempts to initially hide the information.

Honorariums rose from Rs 2.68 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 9.62 crore in 2020-21

Finally, on November 25, IC Makurkar passed an order in the matter. The order noted that the appellant, Agarwal, requested that the Commission take note of the fact that the Delhi Waqf Board, in a November 2, 2022 reply, denied paying salaries to imams or any other person, but in its revised reply filed in the course of the hearing, stated that it was giving imams and helpers “honorariums”.

According to this data provided by Waqf Board, the order stated, honorariums of Rs 2,68,10,123 were paid in 2014-15. In 2015-16, it was Rs 3,18,67,000; in 2016-17, Rs 2,75,43,907; in 2017-18, Rs 1,42,22,000; in 2018-19, Rs 2,33,58,333; in 2019-20, Rs. 9,34,83,700 and in 2020-21, it was Rs. 9,62,16,000.

“…[T]he total honorarium given to imams and others in mosques under control of Waf Board quadrupled since 2014,” the order noted. Significantly, the order observed that this sudden rise came after the announcement Kejriwal was said to have made at the conference of imams in January 2019, as noted by the Zee News report.

Submissions by Waqf Board law officer

Mahurkar’s order also recorded the submissions of the Waqf Board’s representative, law officer Shaista Siddique, who said that the Waqf Board was formerly under a religious Act for the sole purpose of religious and other charity matters.

According to Mahurkar’s order, Siddique tried to explain the matter of financial benefits to Imams by saying that while temples are run by trusts which look after the needs of the priests, masjids under the jurisdiction of the Waqf Board do not get support from any trust and hence these payments.

She said the honorariums to imams and muezzins in Delhi were being given as per a 1993 Supreme Court order in All India Imam Organisation And … versus Union Of India And Ors All India Imam Organisation And … vs Union Of India And Others where Justice R.M. Sahai had held that the responsibility to maintain Imams and others lies with the state and the Delhi Waqf Board.

On the issue of the total amount of funds disbursed to this end, Mahurkar’s order recorded the Waqf Board’s submissions that the Delhi government gives it a total annual grant of approximately Rs 62 crore. This amount is divided between five heads – salaries of Imams and others; widows’ pensions, establishment, Wakf development and staff salary.

Further, the Board submitted that it regularly receives nearly Rs 30 lakh in rent from its various Waqf properties. As per Agarwal’s demand, Mahurkar directed the CPIO (Delhi Wakf Board) to re-examine the matter and furnish correct, complete and detailed information on points 1, 3, 5, 6 and 12 of the RTI application and to transfer the application on queries 1 and 6-12 to the concerned departments.

He also directed the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) –Arvind Kejriwal’s --to provide information on points 1 and 6-12 of the RTI application, as well as complete information with all related documents on the honorariums being paid to imams and others in Delhi mosques which are not in the domain of the Waqf Board.

Article 27 and Muharkar’s comments on Muslims

Mahurkar’s biting remarks, however, came on the point raised by Agarwal regarding Article 27 of the Constitution, which, on the point of ‘Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion’ states, “No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.”

Observing that the appellant had claimed that “the utilisation of tax-payers’ money for promotion or maintenance of a particular religion is against provisions of the Indian Constitution,” Mahurkar trashed the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling which allowed grant of such remuneration. He said:

“Further with regard to the judgment by the Supreme Court in the case between All India Imam Organisation And … versus Union Of India And Others on May 13, 1993, that opened the doors to special financial benefits from public treasury to only Imams and muezzins in the 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 that the tax payers’ money will not be used to favour any particular religion. The Commission notes that the said judgment set a wrong precedent in the country and has become a point of unnecessary political slugfest and also social disharmony in the society.”

In his order, Mahurkar also went ahead and wrote, in bold, what he felt about Partition, Muslims, and their rights:

“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.”

The IC then slammed the policy of giving special benefits to Muslims:

“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,” he added.

Following this hearing, advocate-on-record Aldanish Rein wrote to attorney general of India R. Venkatramani seeking his permission to file criminal contempt of court proceedings against Mahurkar for his comments on the top court’s 1993 judgment, according to a report in Bar and Bench.

In the letter, Rein called Mahurkar’s comments “contemptuous” and said they were “an attempt to disgrace the Muslim community and further spread disharmony amongst different communities on the strength of the Supreme Court order for some ulterior motives.”

Background: Mahurkar

Saying that this was a “matter of extreme importance for the unity and integrity of the nation and interfaith harmony”, Mahurkar directed the registry to forward a copy of his order to the Union law minister, Kiran Rijiju, with the Commission’s recommendation for suitable action to ensure enforcement of provisions of Articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution in letter and spirit.

Incidentally, this is not the first time that Mahurkar has made such remarks. Last year, he had made some tweets which displayed his proximity to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On June 26, 2021, he had also tweeted images of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s visit to his residence. Then on July 27, 2021, he had tweeted on the Uniform Civil Code, noting that Pakistan was “given” to “Indian Muslims”.

In 2007, the magazine Tehelka had in its Operation Kalank exposure on the violence in Gujarat in 2002 also contained a ‘sting operation’ in which he had made controversial revelations on the role of government pleader, Arvind Pandya in the proceedings before the Nanavaty Shah Commission.

Related:

After UP Madrasas Survey, Centre Stops Scholarships For Students of Class 1- 8

UP: After Madrasas, Yogi Govt to Survey Waqf Properties; Muslim Citizens Doubt ‘Intention’

 

Does paying salaries to Imams amount to ‘betraying’ the Hindu community'?

Remarks of Central Information Commissioner (CIC), Mahurkar followed the Delhi Waqf Board submitted data that revealed that the wages of imams and mosque helpers increased four-fold since 2014 after the Kejriwal-lef AAP government came to power in the national capital.

Central Information Commissioner (CIC), Mahurkar followed the  Delhi Waqf Board submitted data that revealed that the wages of imams and mosque helpers increased

New Delhi: In a sharp set of remarks that appear to go far beyond his brief as a Central Information Commissioner (IC), Uday Mahurkar, who was appointed by a Narendra Modi-led panel in 2020, recently said that the payment of honorariums to Imams and helpers in Delhi mosques is akin to encouraging “pan-Islamist tendencies”. Mahurkar’s controversial observations came while hearing an appeal on an RTI application in which the Delhi Wakf Board disclosed that the salaries of Imams and muezzins in the national capital had risen nearly four-fold since 2014.

Kejriwal’s and Imams

It was on February 16, 2022 that activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal had filed a right to information (RTI) application with the Delhi government’s Department of Revenue. In his application, Agarwal sought answers to 12 queries, citing a  Zee Report of 2019 which noted that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal declared that the salaries of imams and helpers in Delhi Waqf Board mosques would be increased.

According to the Zee report, Kejriwal had declared that the Delhi Waqf Board would increase the salaries of imams in mosques which came under it from Rs 10,000 to Rs 18,000 per month and the salaries of helpers in these mosques from Rs 9,000 to Rs 16,000 per month

In his RTI application, Agarwal had asked for detailed information on the Delhi government’s decision to pay salaries, honorariums or monetary benefits of any other form to imams and others in these mosques. He sought information on the total number of mosques in Delhi where such benefits were being provided; the amount of benefits being paid; the government’s year-wise spend on such salaries, honorariums or monetary benefits; and the name of competent authority under the Delhi government for providing these benefits.

Agarwal had also asked to know if such monetary benefits were being provided by the Delhi government to Priests of temples of all other minority religions as well as those of Hindu Temples; the total number of such Gurdwaras, Churches or Temples of (other) minority religions and Hindu temples; and the name of competent authority for approving such benefits.

Not satisfied with the reply received from the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) and the non-adjudication of his first appeal by the First Appellate Authority (FAA), Agarwal then filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission. During the hearing of the second appeal, Agarwal submitted that incomplete information had been furnished to him, that too after a delay of approximately nine months and after much “dithering”, which he claimed indicated attempts to initially hide the information.

Honorariums rose from Rs 2.68 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 9.62 crore in 2020-21

Finally, on November 25, IC Makurkar passed an order in the matter. The order noted that the appellant, Agarwal, requested that the Commission take note of the fact that the Delhi Waqf Board, in a November 2, 2022 reply, denied paying salaries to imams or any other person, but in its revised reply filed in the course of the hearing, stated that it was giving imams and helpers “honorariums”.

According to this data provided by Waqf Board, the order stated, honorariums of Rs 2,68,10,123 were paid in 2014-15. In 2015-16, it was Rs 3,18,67,000; in 2016-17, Rs 2,75,43,907; in 2017-18, Rs 1,42,22,000; in 2018-19, Rs 2,33,58,333; in 2019-20, Rs. 9,34,83,700 and in 2020-21, it was Rs. 9,62,16,000.

“…[T]he total honorarium given to imams and others in mosques under control of Waf Board quadrupled since 2014,” the order noted. Significantly, the order observed that this sudden rise came after the announcement Kejriwal was said to have made at the conference of imams in January 2019, as noted by the Zee News report.

Submissions by Waqf Board law officer

Mahurkar’s order also recorded the submissions of the Waqf Board’s representative, law officer Shaista Siddique, who said that the Waqf Board was formerly under a religious Act for the sole purpose of religious and other charity matters.

According to Mahurkar’s order, Siddique tried to explain the matter of financial benefits to Imams by saying that while temples are run by trusts which look after the needs of the priests, masjids under the jurisdiction of the Waqf Board do not get support from any trust and hence these payments.

She said the honorariums to imams and muezzins in Delhi were being given as per a 1993 Supreme Court order in All India Imam Organisation And … versus Union Of India And Ors All India Imam Organisation And … vs Union Of India And Others where Justice R.M. Sahai had held that the responsibility to maintain Imams and others lies with the state and the Delhi Waqf Board.

On the issue of the total amount of funds disbursed to this end, Mahurkar’s order recorded the Waqf Board’s submissions that the Delhi government gives it a total annual grant of approximately Rs 62 crore. This amount is divided between five heads – salaries of Imams and others; widows’ pensions, establishment, Wakf development and staff salary.

Further, the Board submitted that it regularly receives nearly Rs 30 lakh in rent from its various Waqf properties. As per Agarwal’s demand, Mahurkar directed the CPIO (Delhi Wakf Board) to re-examine the matter and furnish correct, complete and detailed information on points 1, 3, 5, 6 and 12 of the RTI application and to transfer the application on queries 1 and 6-12 to the concerned departments.

He also directed the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) –Arvind Kejriwal’s --to provide information on points 1 and 6-12 of the RTI application, as well as complete information with all related documents on the honorariums being paid to imams and others in Delhi mosques which are not in the domain of the Waqf Board.

Article 27 and Muharkar’s comments on Muslims

Mahurkar’s biting remarks, however, came on the point raised by Agarwal regarding Article 27 of the Constitution, which, on the point of ‘Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion’ states, “No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.”

Observing that the appellant had claimed that “the utilisation of tax-payers’ money for promotion or maintenance of a particular religion is against provisions of the Indian Constitution,” Mahurkar trashed the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling which allowed grant of such remuneration. He said:

“Further with regard to the judgment by the Supreme Court in the case between All India Imam Organisation And … versus Union Of India And Others on May 13, 1993, that opened the doors to special financial benefits from public treasury to only Imams and muezzins in the 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 that the tax payers’ money will not be used to favour any particular religion. The Commission notes that the said judgment set a wrong precedent in the country and has become a point of unnecessary political slugfest and also social disharmony in the society.”

In his order, Mahurkar also went ahead and wrote, in bold, what he felt about Partition, Muslims, and their rights:

“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.”

The IC then slammed the policy of giving special benefits to Muslims:

“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,” he added.

Following this hearing, advocate-on-record Aldanish Rein wrote to attorney general of India R. Venkatramani seeking his permission to file criminal contempt of court proceedings against Mahurkar for his comments on the top court’s 1993 judgment, according to a report in Bar and Bench.

In the letter, Rein called Mahurkar’s comments “contemptuous” and said they were “an attempt to disgrace the Muslim community and further spread disharmony amongst different communities on the strength of the Supreme Court order for some ulterior motives.”

Background: Mahurkar

Saying that this was a “matter of extreme importance for the unity and integrity of the nation and interfaith harmony”, Mahurkar directed the registry to forward a copy of his order to the Union law minister, Kiran Rijiju, with the Commission’s recommendation for suitable action to ensure enforcement of provisions of Articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution in letter and spirit.

Incidentally, this is not the first time that Mahurkar has made such remarks. Last year, he had made some tweets which displayed his proximity to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On June 26, 2021, he had also tweeted images of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s visit to his residence. Then on July 27, 2021, he had tweeted on the Uniform Civil Code, noting that Pakistan was “given” to “Indian Muslims”.

In 2007, the magazine Tehelka had in its Operation Kalank exposure on the violence in Gujarat in 2002 also contained a ‘sting operation’ in which he had made controversial revelations on the role of government pleader, Arvind Pandya in the proceedings before the Nanavaty Shah Commission.

Related:

After UP Madrasas Survey, Centre Stops Scholarships For Students of Class 1- 8

UP: After Madrasas, Yogi Govt to Survey Waqf Properties; Muslim Citizens Doubt ‘Intention’

 

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