The legal blow that the West Bengal government suffered on Monday over the monthly allowance to imams and muezzins could have well been avoided, had it not ignored the suggestion of an erstwhile bureaucrat to offer the same allowance in the name of financial assistance to Muktabs, which are religious educational institutes associated with mosques.
In April last year, when chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced a monthly honorarium for imams and muezzins, an erstwhile joint secretary in the state minority affairs department cautioned about the possible legal backlash for giving them allowance directly.
He cautioned that that direct honorarium to imams and muezzins might prompt groups from other religious communities to approach the court, asking why religious heads from their communities should not be granted the same facility.
This bureaucrat suggested an alternative route through which imams and muezzins could have receive state assistance without inviting legal backlash from other communities.
He suggested that instead of giving financial honorarium to the imams and muezzins, the state government should offer financial assistance for development of the Muktabs, where many imams and muezzins impart religious teachings.
The argument of the erstwhile bureaucrat was that since development of Muktabs also brings in development for the people associated with it, the imams and muezzins could have benefited from it.
This route could have easily avoided a legal backlash.
However, his suggestion was ignored at that point of time, probably because it could not have been more attractive than a direct honorarium for imams and muezzins.
And now, with the Calcutta High Court having declared the honorarium as unconstitutional, the state government is trying to figure out alternative ways to provide benefits.
While routing the money for the same purpose without officially mentioning it through the West Bengal Wakf Board is a possible option, a section of the senior state government bureaucrats are also in favour of opting for the Muktab route as a viable alternative.
After the verdict on Monday, state municipal affairs minister Firhad (Bobby) Hakim said in clear terms that the government would under no circumstance back out from its endeavours to protect the interest of the minority community.