Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Monday declared the monthly allowances given to Imams and muezzins by the West Bengal government as unconstitutional.
A division bench of Justice Pranab Kumar Chattopadhyay and Murari Prasad Shrivastava gave the ruling while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"The court declared the allowance as unconstitutional as it is violative of right to equality under Article 14 (of the constitution) and right against discrimination on grounds of religion, under Article 15," the petitioner's counsel said.
"The court said the allowance was violative of Article 282, as payments to the Imams and muezzins do not constitute a public purpose as envisaged by the article," added counsel.
The court, however, has not ordered recovery of the allowances already paid.
The Mamata Banerjee government on April 2012 announced a monthly payment of Rs 2,500 to Imams or the clergy, and followed it up by fixing Rs 1,500 monthly for the muezzins, those who give the call for prayers at the mosques.
Angry over the government announcement, the BJP filed the PIL challenging its legality.
Welcoming the verdict, state BJP president Rahul Sinha said, "We always believed that the move to pay monthly honorariums only to Imams was discriminatory and unconstitutional and the court has vindicated our stand."
Both the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Congress welcomed the court's verdict, saying it has foiled the "state government's move to discriminate between people on the basis of religion".
However, Shahi Imam of city's Tipu Sultan Mosque Maulana Syed Noor Ur Rehman Barkati termed the court's verdict as "unfortunate".
"It is an unfortunate verdict. Most of the Imams and muezzins in the state are poor, does the court want them to die of hunger? I believe along with Imams and muezzins, Hindu priests should also be paid the allowances. Their condition too is pitiable," Barkati said.