Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Waqf Woes: Corruption, mismanagement in Waqf Boards, encroachment on land-properties a major issue in India

It is true that the Waqf properties in India are so huge that they are enough to finance the educational and social needs of Muslims, however, gross corruption in most of the Waqf Boards and the greed of officials has wrecked the system. 

For over a millennium, Muslims in India have been setting aside property [or part of property] and pledging it, in the name of God, for charitable works. 

The purpose was that the earnings would go to the upkeep of orphans, widows and for other social causes. Even in rural areas there are waqf properties that can fetch earnings to the tune of crores. 

But this money that should go in establishment of orphanages, opening charitable hospitals, schools, colleges, disbursing pensions to destitutes and scholarships to poor students, is mostly gobbled by the corrupt bureaucracy

How the earnings from Waqf properties is siphoned off? My personal experience. I would cite just a few example: 

1. Commercial establishments and shops on Waqf properties [like the shops around mosques or grave yards] are let out to relatives on nominal rent, sometimes as low as Rs 50 or 100. That's because the corrupt waqf officials take bribes to let out shops. 

2. The corrupt 'mutawallis' [caretakers] and those in district waqf committees, even sell the Waqf land or 'allow encroachment', as they are in cahoots with encroachers. Often the caretaker himself grabs the land. 

3. The legal cells don't fight cases. 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. 4. Political-bureaucratic-land mafia nexus is always eyeing the Waqf land. 

Though a waqf property can not be sold or it's use changed till eternity, the exact opposite happens, because lands are mostly in prime locations. They are given on lease in lieu of money that goes in the pockets of officials. 

If cases go to courts, the files disappear and lawyers often don't put up defence. 5. In states where the upright officials want to pursue cases, the district administration doesn't take interest, citing that removal of encroachments may lead to law-and-order issue. 

The collectors, DMs, ADMs and tehsildars aren't interested enough to take the help of police and municipal corporation, to execute the anti-encroahment drive. The earning from Waqf properties could be to the tune of tens of crores from any of the big states in India, but mostly the boards are in loss. Some of the reasons have been mentioned above, however, I will give more examples.

In case of an old mosque, there are nearly 100 shops on the ground floor, basement and on the land around the mosque. However, the rents were last fixed in pre-independence era and continue to be Rs 5-Rs 18. 

The traders who earn lakhs a day because they sit on the most precious property in a town, won't pay more rent as the Board doesn't want it either. The officials go routinely every year and 'settle' the matter 'unofficially'. 

The property of Dargah Baba Kapur on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is huge. The waqf land is spread to over 500 villages. But not a penny reaches the Board. All money goes to a pre-independence era department and the Board never showed inclination to fight the case or get the revenue that could be spent on charitable works. 

Wrecking the Waqf 

Unfortunately, most of the corrupt officials in the Waqf Boards are Muslim. They understand the religious and social implications of the corruption but stilly they many not just change the intent of the 'waaqif' [the person who had endowed the property] but also sell it illegally. 

For example, if a widow dies, and before his death she had pledged that her land should be deemed Waqf property, and a girls' school ought to be founded on it, it is not possible to change the intent. But it is routine to find the land leased to a builder or shops constructed over it. 

What a shame! Blaming the government is wrong, as the levels of corruption and immorality among society is responsible for wrecking the Nizam-e-Awqaf [Auqaaf]. The apathy of Muslims is astonishing to say the least. 

Recently, the Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha, K Rahman Khan, lamented that Waqf Boards aren't doing their work honestly, else Rs, 10,000 crore could be obtained each year just from rents. In fact, this amount is also an underestimate. 

The truth is that the prime property of Waqfs [like the land in Mumbai where Mukesh Ambani's colossal building came up] is worth billions in each state, but is getting encroached, sold and wasted by the day. [See link to CNN-IBN story] 

It is in context of this monumental corruption that Firoz Bakht Ahmad recently wrote in Roznama Rashtriya Sahara, that the Boards should be dissolved. He gave example that how the donations at the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti is running the households of 5,000 khawaja-zaadgans. 

 What Firoz Bakht Ahmad is not the solution, it is also impractical. Do we have an alternative model? There are Waqf Boards in a couple of states that are really doing well. Successful Waqf Boards in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh [including Telangana]

Even on small plots of land, ATMs and similar establishments were opened, and this brings revenue to Board that is spent on charity and education. In a small state like Haryana, the Board has done wonders and it is running engineering college and other institutions. 

Sadly, in large states like UP,Bihar,Maharashtra,West Bengal and the Delhi-Punjab area that has huge waqf land, corruption on hitherto unimaginable proportions, has reduced the Waqf Boards to a status where they are permanently in debt and eternally crisis-ridden. [Photo courtesy Gauravcreations.com at Panaramio]