|The congregation of imams and muezzins at Rani Rashmoni Avenue on Tuesday. Picture by Anup Bhattacharya
Calcutta, Sept. 10: Ten thousand imams and muezzins owing allegiance to various minority organisations congregated at Rani Rashmoni Avenue this afternoon and demanded that the state government work out a fixed method to pay them allowances on a regular basis.
Many of them suggested that the allowance be paid from the earnings of the Board of Waqfs that was till now only helping the government disburse it. A similar way out was suggested by minister Firhad Hakim last Friday.
All Bengal Minority Youth Federation general secretary Mohammad Kamruzzaman said that the imams and muezzins did not want a single penny from the state’s exchequer.
“We agree with the high court’s decision. We do not want a single penny from the government’s exchequer. But the government will have to work out a permanent method to pay allowances to imams,” said Kamruzzaman.
Last Friday, at a programme where she distributed loans and scholarships to minority students, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had assured the imams that the government was by their side even after Calcutta High Court struck down as “unconstitutional” the government’s decision to provide a monthly allowance to imams and muezzins.
The government through the Board of Waqfs was paying Rs 2,500 to 27,784 imams and Rs 1,000 to 18,853 muezzins every month.
Hakim had said that the government was contemplating paying the allowance from the earnings of the board. The Board of Waqfs, handpicked by the government of the day, is the custodian of Waqf properties in the state and maintains them and collects rent.
“But despite having Waqf properties at prime locations in the city, the board’s earnings are dismal because many of the properties are encroached upon. Rent realised from the other properties is minuscule and not sufficient to pay allowances to imams and muezzins,” said a government official.
If the government extends financial aid to the board for the purpose of paying the allowance, it can get challenged in court.
Many speakers urged the government to retrieve all the Waqf properties, mainly in the city, that have been encroached upon. They also demanded that the state government pays rent at the market rate of the properties that are used by it.
“Thousands of Waqf properties in the state have been usurped. If the government is serious in paying the allowance to imams and muezzins, it should, with the help of police, retrieve those properties. Even the government is using few properties like the Writers’ Buildings and Raj Bhavan. If they pay the rent at the prevailing market rate, the rent realised by the Waqf board will be enough to pay a monthly allowance of upto Rs 10,000,” Mohammad Siddiqullah, general secretary of the Jamat-ul-Aiama said.
Gyasuddin Mollah, minister of state, minority affairs and minority education department, said that the government was consulting legal experts and the Waqf board.
“Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said that the allowance to imams and muezzins will not be discontinued. They should trust her and give her some time. Even if there is a gap of a few months, we will make up for that,” Mollah said.