In the name of Allah: Waqf corruption in India

The Waqf endowments in terms of land in India are unimaginably huge — to the tune of around 4 lakh registered properties and around 6 lakh acres of land. According to a joint parliamentary committee headed by Rajya Sabha chairman K Rehman Khan, the third largest ownership of land after the Indian Railways and the defence department is that of the Waqf.

Khan’s report records that almost 70 per cent of Waqf property has been encroached upon and of the remaining, cases of blatant corruption abound. Land is disposed off to builders, markets, hotels, malls or industries at unimaginably shockingly low rents.

Almost 77 per cent of Delhi was owned by the Waqf but most of its properties have been illegally occupied, including the CGO Complex, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi High Court, Delhi Public School (Mathura Road), Anglo Arabic School, newspaper offices on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, besides umpteen Central government offices. All these properties were lost because Waqif management laws were inadequate and the Central Waqf Council a toothless body.

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.

How the Waqf board has become an establishment deeply mired in corruption can be gauged from some land scams like the one at the Maharashtra Waqf Board that has given 4,535 square metres in the upmarket Altamount Road to Mukesh Ambani for his 27-storey apartment. Similarly in Bangalore, the Windsor Manor Hotel worth more than Rs 600 crore has been leased for a paltry Rs 12,000 per month.

Most Waqf properties have managers who treat even heritage sites as their fiefdoms by building offices, businesses and even houses as has happened in the case of Dargah Khwaja Sa’adullah Naqshbandi at the heritage site of the Anglo Arabic School, Ajmeri Gate, Delhi. It was 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 encroachers from the property. However, builders, property dealers, small-time politicians and local musclemen are trying to re-encroach.

In yet another glaring example of an optical shop at Fatehpuru Masjid, the owner got the receipt changed with the help of Waqf and masjid caretakers. It was noted by some group of ‘social workers’, who waged a tirade in the name of restoring the property from illegal encroachment and stopped only after taking their share of booty from the shop owner.

On the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the Waqf property of Dargah Baba Kapur is boundless as it has spread over 550 villages. However, not a single penny goes to the Waqf board there as it has been neglecting its duty despite repeated reminders by the people to fight for the restoration of funds for charitable purposes.

“There is a nexus between politicians, police, bureaucrats and land mafia who have always eyed Waqf land which cannot be sold or its use changed till eternity. They are given on lease in lieu of money that fills the coffers of officials,” says Aziz Burney, thinker and group editor, ‘Rashtriya Sahara Urdu’ daily.

During the Muslim rule in India, there was no central body to look after Waqf properties. In British India, all endowments, Muslims and non-Muslim, 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 which too, inquiries have revealed, has been a den of murky deals. One such deal relates to the embezzlement of funds involving the Ajmer Dargah Khwaja Saheb Committee.

According to Asif Mohammed Khan, an RJD MLA from Okhla, Delhi, the need of the hour is perhaps a greater interest and involvement of the Muslim community to gauge and monitor the purity of intent of those responsible for the management of Awqaf at all levels. The Sachar Committee Report suggested that an overhauling of the Waqf board is required as the government doesn’t get proper CEOs in most of the states and those who are there are either manning this post as an additional charge or are simply not qualified.

There should be an Indian Waqf Service that should select the officers to work as CEOs. It had been found by the Sachar Committee that in UP, the CEO was a person from Unani medicine background while in Shillong, the CEO was class 10 failed.

The need of the hour according to Atyab Siddiiqui, is that the present boards be dissolved and that a new umbrella body with sub-committees like education committee, widows committee, medical committee, masjid committee, dargah committee, etc be formed with people with forthright character and a feeling to dedicate to the nation and the community lest all should be lost.

(The writer is an activist and a commentator on social and religious issues)

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