Mamata at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Friday. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
Calcutta, Sept. 6: Mamata Banerjee today assured imams and muezzins that the government was by their side and they need not get disheartened by the Calcutta High Court order that struck down as “unconstitutional” the decision to provide a monthly allowance to them.
“The honourable high court has passed an order and we cannot disobey it. But we are with you,” the chief minister said at a programme in Netaji Indoor Stadium where students from the minority community were given loans and scholarships.
“Sarkar jodi ardhek ruti khaye, aapnader keo ardhek ruti debe. Hatash howar kono karon nei (If the government eats half a roti, it will give you half a roti too. There is no reason to be disheartened),” Mamata said.
“This is a democratic government. We will find a democratic solution to it,” she added.
The chief minister did not say what she intended to do.
Although the government is yet to decide whether a higher court would be moved against the division bench order, urban development minister Firhad Hakim told The Telegraph that the state had started looking for options to carry on with the allowance.
“The (high court) order says that the government cannot pay the allowance but there is no bar on the Board of Waqfs paying any such allowance,” Hakim said after the chief minister left the venue.
The Board of Waqfs is the custodian of waqf properties in the state and maintains them. In return, the board collects rent, of which it keeps 7 per cent while the rest goes to mutawallis — caretakers of individual properties.
So, the board’s main earning is from the government in the form of a budgetary allocation by the minorities affairs department.
If the government gives any financial assistance to the board over and above the budgetary allocation so that the allowance can be given, such a move too could face legal challenge, a government official said.
Hakim said: “We are scrutinising the income and expenditure of the board and trying to assess its capability of paying the allowance from its own coffers. Some of the properties of the board can be developed while those that have been encroached upon will be retrieved to increase the earnings of the board.”
After the panchayat poll dates fixed in the Supreme Court coincided with the holy month of Ramazan despite the state government’s opposition, Mamata had highlighted during campaigning that she had taken up the cause of the minority community. She had blamed the Opposition and the state election commission for the timing of the polls.
Political observers had said the move had helped her in the polls.
Since April last year, the state government has been providing an allowance of Rs 2,500 to 27,784 to imams and an allowance of Rs 1,000 to 18,553 to muezzins through the waqf board.
Sources in Writers’ said that the government was paying the money from the non-plan head of the budget for minority affairs department — looked after by Mamata herself — and the Board of Waqfs was a facilitator for disbursement.
The matter reached the courtroom after state BJP chief Rahul Sinha filed a petition in the high court in May 2012 questioning the legal validity of the allowance.