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The Central Information Commission has said 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. Information Commissioner Uday Mahurkar, while hearing an RTI application filed by an activist demanding details of salaries to imams by the Delhi government and the Delhi Waqf Board, also observed that the order violated constitutional provisions that say “tax payers money will not be used to favour any particular religion”.

The Supreme Court in 1993 on a petition from the All India Imam Organisation had directed the waqf board to give remuneration to imams in mosques managed by it.

He has 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.

“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.

He also directed the Delhi Waqf Board to pay a compensation of Rs 25,000 to RTI activist Subhash 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.

“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.

“It is necessary to note here that it was the policy of giving special benefits to the 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,” he 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 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.

“The commission observes that 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.

The orders of the commission, the highest body to decide appeals and complaints under the RTI Act, are often challenged in high courts through writ petitions.

The government through an amendment in the RTI Act had diluted perks, salaries and tenure of information commissioners from being on par with central election commissioners or to that of bureaucrats serving at their pay scale. The fixed tenure of five years given to an information Commissioner in the RTI Act was also reduced to three years.

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