Millennium Post

A systematic daylight robbery

If at all there is a systematically managed daylight robbery going on for a long time in India, it is the wheeling and dealing of the land given in the name of Allah by the affluent for the upkeep of the orphans, widows, divorcee women, educational and charitable purposes, and for other social causes by the Auqaf [Waqf Baords].

The Waqf endowments, in terms of land in India, are unimaginably huge and to the tune of around 4,00,000 registered properties and around 6,00,000 acres of land –  the largest in the world.

According to the report of the joint parliamentary committee  headed by K Rehman Khan, the third largest ownership of land after the Indian Railways and the defence department, is that of the Waqf in India. Khan’s report records that almost 70 per cent of the Waqf property has been encroached upon already, and of the remaining, cases of blatant corruption abound and land is disposed off to builders, markets, hotels, malls or industries at unimaginably shockingly low rents.

The concept of Waqf is rooted to the Quranic injunctions dealing with charity: ‘And in their wealth the beggar and outcaste had due share.’ [Chapter-26: Verse-19]. Again, ‘Ye shall never attain to goodness till ye give alms of that which ye love, and whatever ye give, of a truth God knoweth.’ [Chapter-3: Verse-86]. Islam’s followers transformed this concept of charity into an institution known as Waqf that formed an important branch of Muslim Law for it is interwoven with the entire religious life and social economy of the Muslims.

Literally, the Waqf means endowment of moveable or immovable property by the Muslims for the welfare of needy and poor people and maintaining dedicated to God mosques, tombs, orphanages, shrines, imambaras, madrasas etc. The Waqif (settler) in his deed appoints Mutawalli [manager or caretaker] for the administration of the Waqf. The Waqif has the right either to appoint himself or any Muslim as Mutawalli.

 Waqf laws are many forms, like – Qazis Act II of 1864, Dargah Khwaja Saheb Act 1955, Central Waqf Act 1954, Waqf Amendment Act 1959, UP Muslim Act 1960, etc.

Laments M Atyab Siddiqui, the lawyer who is an expert in Waqf law, ‘For over a millennium, emperors, nawabs and Muslims in India have been setting aside property and pledging it, in the name of Allah, for charitable works’.

Ironically, the list of encroachers, illegal occupiers and perpetrators of misappropriation of Waqf properties include the names of personalities as prominent as Ahmad Bukhari, the Imam of Jama Masjid of Delhi, Maulana Muazzam Ahmed, the Naib-Imam of the Shahi Masjid, Fatehpuri, Delhi and some well-known organisations and individuals.

The purpose was that the earnings would go to the upkeep of orphans, widows and for other social causes but the Waqf Boards aren’t doing their work honestly, else Rs 10,000 crore could be obtained each year just from rents of the 30 per cent left properties [even though 70 per cent have been encroached upon].

Adds a disgruntled Siddiqui, ‘The legal cells don’t fight cases as we hear that the files often are ‘lost’. Besides, lawyers of Waqf Boards are often ‘bought’ by the other party that has encroached a property and sold it after constructing a multi-storey complex on it.’

How the Waqf Board has become an establishment deeply mired into corruption, can be gauged from some land scams like this one from Maharashtra Waqf Board, that has given a patch of 4,535 square metres in the upmarket Altamount Road to Mukesh Ambani for his royal 27-storey apartment.

Similarly in Bangalore, the Windsor Manor Hotel worth more than 600 crore, has been leased at a paltry Rs 12,000 per month.

Most Waqf properties have managers who treat even heritage sites as their fiefdom by building offices, businesses and even houses as has happened in the case of Dargah Khwaja Sa’adullah Naqshbandi at  the historic heritage site Anglo Arabic School, Ajmeri Gate, Delhi. It has been declared a heritage site by the DDA in 1994 and according to the PIL (No 8759 of 2004) filed by this author the high court ordered the removal of about 51 families of the encroachers from the heritage property. However once again, the same builders, property dealers, smalltime politicians and local musclemen are again trying to re-encroach. The common Muslim, taking the Waqf to be something religious, doesn’t interfere even listening to stories of corruption.

‘An abhorent nexus between the politicians, police, bureaucrats and land mafia has always been eyeing the Waqf land that’s mostly in prime locations despite the fact that the Waqf property can not be sold or it’s use changed for eternity. However, the exact opposite happens unfortunately. They are given on lease in lieu of money that goes in the pockets of officials,’ piques Aziz Burney, thinker and group editor, Rashtriya Sahara Urdu daily.

Unfortunately, most of the corrupt officials in the Waqf Boards are Muslims who sell off the property for a pittance and later on remove the files of the properties thus manipulatively sold. The modus operandi for mismanagement is simple. A builder or businessman usually identifies a Waqf property, approaches the members or chairman of the Board and, surreptitiously, the land is sold for a at paltry price while the Board members get their ‘due’.

The worst thing is that no accountability is fixed for wishy-washy deals in the Waqf Boards. Thousands of mosques and even graveyards have been encroached upon countrywide. ‘In spite of owning 6,00,000 acres of properties and thus being the most resourceful community, Indian Muslims are one of the poorest sections of the country,’ states eminent historian and scholar Professor Mushirul Hasan.

These Waqf Boards are invariably constituted of members with vested interest installed by the ruling state government and often persons acting as veritable puppets of the local governments, like Chaudhary Mateen Ahmed, chairman, Delhi Waqf Board, usually have no knowledge of matters relating to the property and hence whose interference is detrimental to their smooth running.

According to Iqbal Mohammed Malak, a social worker from the walled city of Delhi, the lure of the lucre of Waqf properties to persons having unscrupulous aims to make it big in politics and misusing funds donated at holy shrines continues to this day.

True, the apathy of Muslims is astonishing to say the least. Corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement of funds and misconduct by the Mutallawis and those responsible for honest and smooth functioning of the Waqf have been pointed out in the media time and again but in vain.
Theologically, once the properties are dedicated in the name of Allah (God) and endowed to Waqf, remain perpetual, irrevocable and inalienable and thereby once a Waqf it always remain a Waqf entitlement.

During Muslim rule in India, there was no central body to look after Waqf properties. In British India all endowments, Muslims and non-Muslims, were managed by provincial governments. In post-independent India, the management of Waqf properties was for the first time manned by the formation of a Central Waqf Council.

This too, it is alleged, was a den of murky corrupt deeds as had been proved after the author had convened an inquiry into the embezzlement of Ajmer Dargah Khwaja Saheb Committee at the behest of the Delhi High Court.

Firoz Bakht Ahmed is an activist and a commentator on social issues.
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