Sunday, August 15, 2010

Taj mosque imam gets just 15/month

Shahjahan Paid 15 Gold Coins Worth 2.7L, But Present Pay Barely Gives Cleric 1 Meal

Lucknow: Syed Sadiq Ali can literally blow up his monthly salary on a modest breakfast—one cup of chai and bun-makkhan. “That is all Rs 15 will get you and no more... not even an extra piece of khaara,’’ Ali morosely declares. The only thing ‘shahi’ (royal) about this 40-year-old Shahi Imam of Mumtazee Masjid, the imposing red sandstone mosque on Taj Mahal premises, is the title that his family has been holding for past 350-odd years.

Ali claims to be the seventh generation of the first Imam emperor Shahjahan transported from Bukhara. But then those were the days, he wistfully says, when the badshah salamat had, by a Shahi ‘farman’ (royal decree), sanctioned the imam 15 gold asharfis a month in lieu of upkeep of Mumtazee Masjid and conducting namaz five times a day therein.

From 15 gold coins to 15 one-rupee coins, it has indeed been a headlong fall for his descendants. Ali has it all neatly worked out. “Ten grams of gold—weight of a mohar—at the current market price is Rs 18,000, so 15 mohars would total up to Rs 2.7 lakh... and to think that the Taj Mahal is the biggest money spinner for the government of India,’’ Ali said.

In fact, his father—an imam for 40 long years—had tried hard to get a raise. “He would send letters to everyone, right from the DM to the PM or the President. Things at one point of time even looked quite bright when Ghulam Nabi Azad, during a trip to Agra, promised a respectable remuneration. But, apparently he forgot all about it,’’ he recalled.

Adding insult to injury is the realisation that even fourth class employees at Taj get between Rs 15,000 and Rs 18,000 a month, says Munawwar Ali, convener of National Monuments Protection Committee, Agra and Ali’s first cousin. Accredited members of All India Imam Association, he claims, are entitled to Rs 10,000 as monthly salary. “The least the ASI could do was to bring it on a par,’’ he suggests. The ASI, however, refuses to accord the Shahi Imam a permanent status on the rolls. On record, he is only a part-time employee, Munnawwar claims.

WONDER OF WONDERS: Even Class IV employees at Taj get between Rs 15,000 and Rs 18,000 a month, but Syed Sadiq Ali, the Shahi Imam of the red sandstone mosque on Taj Mahal premises, gets a pittance that does not provide for anything more than one modest breakfast of chai and bunmakkhan every month

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