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Cash flow to imams dries up

Calcutta, Nov. 20: The Mamata Banerjee government has not paid honorarium to more than 20,000 imams and 16,000-odd muezzins for the past two months, the backlog underscoring the poor fiscal health of Bengal.

Abdul Ghani, the chairperson of the Board of Waqfs, confirmed that the beneficiaries listed with the board had not received the honorarium in October and November.

“We have not been able to pay the honorarium for the past two months as we did not get the funds from the government,” Ghani told The Telegraph.

Ghani, however, added that he was in touch with the government for immediate release of funds.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had proposed a monthly payment of Rs 2,500 as an honorarium to the imams in the state and, later, an honorarium of Rs 1,000 for the muezzins was also announced.

Data available with the government reveals that around Rs 7 crore is needed every month to pay the honorarium to the imams and the muezzins.

Although the state has been paying the honorarium, the Board of Waqfs has been releasing the money as some minority community leaders had pointed out that imams and muezzins could not accept any money directly from the government.

An official of the board said some of the beneficiaries had been calling or visiting its Madan Street office with queries.

“Since the beginning of October, we committed to them thrice about the payment of honorarium but we could not keep our word. It is getting very embarrassing for us. We are not being able to face them,” said an official.

Senior officials of the state minority affairs and madarsa education department said funds could be released till August but the disbursement was stopped thereafter because of a crunch.

“No funds were allotted to the department for this purpose after the chief minister announced the scheme in April. The department had allotted Rs 28 crore from its non-plan funds for 2012-13. The honorarium was being paid so far with these and some other funds of the department. We have now run out of non-plan funds and so we could not release the honorarium,” an official said.

According to the official, the department had regularly sent files to the finance department seeking more funds but the pleas were not heard.

“The scheme was not approved in the departmental budget. The finance department is not in a situation to allot funds for this purpose right now,” a finance department official said.

The Telegraph had reported on November 12 that the finance department was struggling to manage the income-expenditure mismatch because of a sudden rise in non-plan expenditure.

The honorarium plan had evoked mixed reactions in the community as some felt it was an ill-concealed attempt to woo them.

The failure to pay has upset others who feel the government should not have promised the honorarium if it did not have the money.

“The government has money to spend on various activities but when it comes to the problems of minorities, it says it is cash-strapped. If this government wants the support of the minorities, it will have to set its priorities straight,” said Toha Siddique, peer zada of Furfura Sharif.

Sultan Ahmed, the Trinamul MP who advises the chief minister on minority affairs, said the non-payment was a “temporary” problem. “The state government is facing a severe funds crunch. A lot of projects are suffering because of this but all of it is temporary. The honorarium will also resume soon,” Ahmed said.