Last year, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made a controversial announcement of giving a monthly financial aid to imams and muezzins. The Trinamool Congress government had hoped to receive a windfall of applications from the imams and muezzins across the state. However, almost nine months after the scheme was announced, the government has received only a trickle of applications from the community leaders.
Officials say the main reason behind the lukewarm response could be that a large number of imams and muezzins do not want to accept money from the government as they consider that Islam does not permit accepting financial aid from a non-religious body.
Unofficial estimates show that there are around 70,000 mosques in the state. The government, which announced Rs 2,500 monthly aid to imams and Rs 1,000 monthly aid to muezzins, had set aside Rs 126 crore — Rs 90 crore for the imams and Rs 36 crore for muezzins — for the current financial year.
A brief calculation could mean that government had set a target of enrolling 30,000 imams and 30,000 muezzins for this financial year. Till date, only 23,000 imams and 12,000 muezzins have submitted their applications to the Wakf Board.
“I have heard that a section of imams and muezzins do not want to accept money from the government since the fund does not come from a religious body. So, they consider accepting money from government as un-Islamic. At one point of time, we had expected applications from 3,000 imams of Burdwan district alone. But so far, we have received only 700 applications from that district,” said West Bengal Wakf Board Chairman Abdul Gani.
A senior official of Minority Affairs Department said imams in most of the interior parts of the state get food and other necessary material from the locals. “This may be another reason why not all the imams and muezzins have opted for the government money,” said the official.
When the government had announced the scheme, there was widespread criticisms with some alleging that Trinamool government’s bid to woo the minorities may flare up communal tensions in the state. Hindu outfits demanded that priests too be given such “honorarium”. To counter the allegation, the government said the money was being given to imams and muezzins as they help government agencies implement various social schemes like pulse polio drive and creating awareness among the community.