West Bengal govt's allowance for imams unconstitutional, rules High Court

The Calcutta High Court on Monday rejected the honorarium announced by the state government for imams and muezzins, ruling it to be unconstitutional and against public interest.

On April 9 last year, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced a monthly honorarium of Rs 2,500 each for all imams of mosques. A month later, the state cabinet decided to give a monthly honorarium of Rs 1,000 each to muezzins also.

Hearing a PIL filed by the state BJP and others, the division bench of Justices Pranab Chatterjee and M P Srivastav today held that the state government's decision violated Articles 14 and 15/1 of the constitution, which provide that the state shall not discriminate on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Observing that imams and muezzins cannot be treated as a separate community, the court said payment of such allowances on the basis of religion is illegal. While the decision was passed by the assembly, it is the duty of the high court and the Supreme Court to check whether decisions taken by the legislature are constitutional or not, said the bench.

The court also held that the state government cannot pay such honorarium through the Wakf Board as it does not serve a public purpose. The state government is reported to have disbursed Rs 162 crore to the Wakf Board for the purpose.

In its affidavit, the state government claimed it decided to pay the honorarium under Article 282 as the imams and muezzins are poor.

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