Waqf scam!! Meant for Muslim welfare, Waqf lands are being sold for a song by its trustees

Sandipan Chatterjee

Wakf land now a club: Tollygunge, Calcutta

Having failed to give the lease rent agreed upon in 1934, the
management of the club has now been ordered by court to pay Rs 30 lakh
as arrears and Rs 1 lakh a month as rent

Saba Naqvi

Wakf Deconstructed

  • ‘To tie down’ is the literal meaning of
    the Arabic word Wakf. It’s used across the Muslim world to denote
    property donated by individuals and institutions in the name of Allah
    for the benefit of the poor in the community.
  • 800 years is how old the institution of Wakf is in India. It began when Muslim rulers donated huge lands for charity.
  • 3,00,000 is the approximate number of registered Wakf properties in India
  • 4 lakh acresis the land Wakf properties account for. According to the deputy
    chairman of the Rajya Sabha, K. Rahman Khan, this makes the board the
    third-largest landholder after the railways and defence.
  • 35 is the number of Wakf boards in India, many of them non-functional
  • 5 is the minimum number of members a board must have. The number,
    however, varies according to the Muslim population of a state. Members
    are nominated by ruling parties in each state.
  • Wakf Acts The 1954 and 1995 central laws endow huge powers with the state governments that set up and run Wakf boards in their states

***

Modus Operandi

Outright sale

  • Builder or businessman identifies a Wakf property
  • They approach members of the board
  • The land is sold for a pittance
  • Board members get their cut

Cheap rent

  • Happens in states where outright sale is not encouraged
  • Builder/ businessman approaches board members
  • The land is given on a ridiculously low lease
  • Land use is changed to facilitate commercial exploitation
  • Members pocket their cuts

Allegations against the board

  • Although Wakf is a national resource to be used to
    develop institutions and earn income for Muslims, it is so terribly
    managed that it is the only system where virtually no accountability is
    demanded
  • Cases of blatant corruption abound. Land is sold
    off for buildings, hotels, malls or factories for a pittance or given
    out for shockingly low rents to commercial interests.
  • The boards have become an avenue for political patronage. Muslims who
    cannot be accommodated in ministries are sent off here. They mostly
    never do anything for the community. In most cases, they are
    hand-in-glove with the land mafia and encroachers.
  • The “Islam in danger” sentiment is crudely raised to hoodwink the Muslim
    public and stop any real scrutiny of the functioning of boards, whose
    members are out to make a fast buck
  • Ironically, Wakf boards keep claiming properties protected by the ASI as “living”
    religious shrines. In many cases, there is a clear monetary incentive
    under the guise of religion.
  • The mess in the boards is
    also a reflection of the apathy of state governments. Many have not
    constituted boards; none have carried out a survey of Wakf properties
    as required by the 1995 Act.
  • As a result of this mess, 70
    per cent of Wakf properties are encroached upon, often in connivance
    with board members or government department overseeing.

Allow encroachments

  • The board covertly encourages Muslims to encroach on a
    monument. Friday prayers begin to be held on a regular basis. Wakf
    board then attempts to make it a ‘living’ place of worship. Very often,
    the encroachers are board members or persons acting on their behalf.
  • Later  surrounding land is sold/ leased as  private property for  commercial  purposes.

***

It is collectively the biggest
land scam in India’s history. Wakf can be described as a religious
endowment made in the name of Allah for the benefit of the poor and
needy in the Muslim community. There are approximately 3,00,000
registered Wakf properties in India on about four lakh acres of land.
It is a national resource that should have been developed for the
welfare of the community, as it is meant to.

Instead, this resource has been mortgaged, sold and encroached upon
with the connivance of the very institutions and individuals
responsible for safeguarding it. This is an investigation into a
systemic rot. The Wakf boards in most states of India are repositories
of corruption, in league with land sharks and builders. They continue
to get away with the daylight robbery of their own community because,
whenever there is any demand for scrutiny, they crudely take cover
behind the “Islam in danger” sentiment.

 
 
Earlier,
a sale or exchange of land had to have the approval of the district
judge. Now the board pretty much does what it wants.
 
 

Rahman
Khan, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, was chairman of the joint
parliamentary committee on Wakf that submitted its report a year ago.
Having examined the issue in depth, he says: “If the Wakf properties
were managed properly, many problems of Muslims such as joblessness,
lack of education and resultant poverty would have been resolved.
Today, even if we presume that 70 per cent of these properties have
been encroached upon or sold off, even the remaining 30 per cent is a
huge resource that can be developed.” He has already recommended to the
Manmohan Singh government that there be a “total change” in the
constitution of the boards and a national Wakf development corporation
be set up with professionals at the helm. “Imagine what great
institutions can be built as the land cost is zero,” he says.

Wakf property now encroached upon: Fatehpuri Mosque, Delhi
In
one instance, the board got a property with Punjab National Bank
vacated and then leased it to a society headed by one of its own
members. Shops too have been given out on lease.

But that is some distance away and will happen only if public
awareness about the scale of the problem is created. Currently, those
who purport to be leaders of the community are complicit in the
conspiracy to rob resources while perpetuating a siege mentality. They
want to capture existing institutions and sell them off piece by piece.
They are adept at fanning fears and feeding into the victimhood
syndrome but quite incapable of building institutions or shepherding
the community towards modernity. Atyab Siddiqui, advocate and standing
counsel of the Jamia Millia Islamia university, says that “anytime we
talk of reforming Wakf, they bring religion into it”. According to him,
the 1995 Wakf Act actually increased corruption within the boards.
Earlier, any sale or exchange of land had to be cleared by a district
judge. “But now,” he says, “the board can pretty much do what it likes,
and shocking decisions are taken all the time.”

Some examples of suspect land deals from across the land:

  • Chennai: In 1997, the Tamil Nadu Wakf
    Board took the decision to outright sell 1,710 square feet of land in
    the commercialised Triplicane High street in Madras for a paltry Rs 3
    lakh. A sale like this would have required the sanction of two-thirds
    of the board members.
  • Mumbai: The
    Maharashtra Wakf Board got a measly Rs 16 lakh for 4,532 square metres
    in the upscale Altamount Road on which none other than Mukesh Ambani is
    building his plush 27-storey home.
  • Bangalore:
    Developed on about five acres of land, the Windsor Manor hotel here was
    till recently giving the board a rent of Rs 12,000 a month for a
    property worth Rs 500 crore.
  • Faridabad:
    The Wakf board has been giving out about five acres of land on 11-month
    leases for several years at a ridiculously low rent between Rs 500 and
    Rs 1,500 per month. A factory was built and land use altered.

When Outlook approached Salman Khursheed, the Union
minister for minority affairs, he admitted that “Wakf is one of those
areas in which accountability has not been demanded. The community
itself has not demanded accountability possibly due to a level of
ignorance”. Can things change? Khursheed says he has proposed changes
in the existing laws. “Once there was no accountability in the
management of Haj. Now questions are asked all the time,” he points
out. “Although the Wakf situation looks impossible, things do and can
change once awareness builds up.”

Wakf land now a hotel: Windsor Manor, Bangalore

The hotel was paying a lease of just Rs 12,000 a month for this
five-acre plot till the courts recently ordered a rent of Rs 6 lakh a
month for a property worth Rs 500 crore

The heart of the problem lies in the constitution of the boards. A
senior bureaucrat familiar with the issue says bluntly: “The boards are
ill-constituted, not constituted or politically constituted. Often,
they’re nothing more than a gang of thieves.” Mostly, political
hangers-on and operators from the minority community are sent off to
man the boards. The policies of successive governments have created a
class of “sarkari Musalmans” adept at capturing institutions and
bagging positions through which they can patronise others down the
pecking order. The incentive they have, besides authority, is to pilfer
as much as they can get away with.

 
 
The policies of successive governments have created a class of ‘sarkari Musalmans’ who are adept at capturing institutions.
 
 

There
are enough examples of how a small group of “insiders” at Muslim
institutions benefit from the overall laxity in the boards. For
instance, there is the case of a member of the Delhi minorities
commission running a private school on a large tract of Wakf land in
the expensive Nizamuddin area and paying the board a pittance of Rs
1,000 rent per month. Mohammad Arif, section officer in charge of
properties in the Delhi Wakf office, admits reluctantly that there are
“some schools running on Wakf land but they are not for the poor and
charge fees”. Further digging reveals that, two decades ago, Delhi Wakf
ran a charitable dispensary but it was shut down. Now the main service
they provide is paying salaries of imams attached to masjids (see On a Wink and a Prayer).

<font class=
Wakf land now Ambani Home: Altamount Rd, Mumbai

The market value of this 4,532 sq m plot on which Mukesh Ambani is
building a 27-storey skyscraper is Rs 21 crore but the board ratified
its sale for a “contribution” of Rs 16 lakh

There are two revealing cases linked to the huge Fatehpuri mosque in Delhi. According to some documents accessed by Outlook,
what was listed as “Wakf estate number 6540 in masjid Fatehpuri” was
occupied by a branch of the Punjab National Bank. The board fought a
case and got the property vacated. Subsequently, however, it leased the
property to a society headed by one of its own members, a Maulana
Moazzam Ahmad. A blatant case of insider trading? Three years ago, a
lawyer representing a school running inside the Fatehpuri mosque tried
to get a shop at the entrance removed. The Wakf board claimed that the
documents relevant for that plot of land were missing—it was widely
suspected that the shopkeeper was paying off members. Salman Khursheed
also pleads helplessness. “What do we do when the boards let their own
properties be encroached upon and then say the documents are missing
and they have lost the title deeds?”

That is, in fact, the most common tactic used when the boards are in
league with encroachers. RS deputy chairman Rahman Khan says that there
is no doubt that almost 70 to 80 per cent of Wakf land is encroached
upon. Often, it is the government that simply takes over the land. But
all too often Muslims themselves are the encroachers who pay off board
members to live inside mosques and shrines or run shops and businesses
on the premises. “Corruption in the boards is rampant,” says Rahman
Khan, “and this is made worse by the attitude of state governments to
Muslim institutions. They don’t want to interfere in case there is a
reaction and they also don’t care because Muslims are involved.”

Wakf land sold cheap: Lal Bagh, Bangalore

This 90,000 sq ft of prime property in the city’s posh area was sold
for just Rs 1 crore when it could have fetched over Rs 90 crore in the
market

Standing counsel for Jamia Millia Islamia Atyab Siddiqui says that
whenever there is an initiative from educated Muslims to preserve a
legacy, build an institution or perhaps even introduce modern
education, there is a run-in with the Wakf board. “We believe the Wakf
does not have the instruments to preserve old mosques and we have been
arguing that the ASI is better positioned to manage properties. But the
problem that enlightened sections of society face is that they run up
against monetary interests of a few who hide behind the guise of
religion.” K.K. Mohammad is a veteran ASI archaeologist who has worked
across India. Now the superintending archaeologist for the Delhi
circle, he says, “My experience shows me that whenever people claim
protected monuments as living shrines, there is a commercial incentive
of occupying the monument or developing the land around it. All
communities have people who do this.”

Most old Wakf properties have caretakers who treat it like a
personal fiefdom, building houses and businesses and destroying the
character of the shrine. Siddiqui has been part of the initiative to
preserve the historic Anglo-Arabic school in Delhi’s Ajmeri gate area.
He says, “The high court ordered the removal of encroachers (about 50
families) from the heritage property. But the same lot of property
dealers, local toughs, interlopers are again trying to move in under
the Wakf umbrella.”

 
 
Andhra has the largest number of Wakf properties registered in the country. Here the government has simply taken over land.
 
 

Across
the country, there are examples of the huge Wakf mess. West Bengal has
many cases of properties being encroached upon and made into little
slums. Some examples: 4,000 illegal occupants are in possession of a
property in Calcutta known as the Mysore Family Fateha Fund Wakf
Estate. Over a hundred mosques in Calcutta and Howrah have been
encroached upon. Sixty-four other mosques in the state have been
illegally occupied. The story is somewhat different in Andhra Pradesh,
which has the largest number of Wakf properties registered in the
country. Here the government has simply taken over huge tracts of Wakf
lands. For instance, Hyderabad’s hi-tech city stands on Wakf land.
There is the interesting case of the government taking over 6,000 acres
of land worth Rs 500 crore in Visakhapatnam and allotting 900 acres out
of this to NTPC and 800 acres to the Hindujas at the rate of Rs 2.25
lakh per acre. When the Wakf board contested this, the Supreme Court
ruled in its favour saying that the land was theirs and transferred it
back to them. The government had to then transfer the money to the Wakf
board.

 

Wakf land now sold to developer: Aurangabad

Notified as Wakf property in 1973, 14 acres of this Rs 60-crore
property was allegedly sold for Rs 8 crore to Nirman Bharti Developers,
owned by Vilasrao Deshmukh’s brother Dilip

Clearly, Wakf is a remarkable resource that can be tapped for the
community. In a state like Kerala where people are literate and demand
accountability, the board is manned by professionals and headed by two
advocates, not by racketeers. Bureaucrats in the ministry of minority
affairs in New Delhi cite the work done in Kerala as an example of what
is possible. But that is an exception. The norm is rampant corruption,
in the firm belief that no one will demand accountability.

More than anything else, the terrible state of Wakf properties in
India reflects on the Muslim community’s failure to build institutions.
Compare this with the manner in which the tiny Christian minority has
preserved and built schools, colleges and hospitals. There is a complex
set of reasons for this state of affairs in institutions that purport
to work for the welfare of the country’s largest minority and the
world’s second-largest Muslim population. In the case of Wakf, many
illiterate Muslims just see their placards and presume the land belongs
to them. They are encouraged to believe there is some higher religious
purpose to Wakf, little knowing that it has become a synonym for
daylight robbery. The greatest hypocrisy perhaps is that the men who
violate the spirit of charity behind the concept of Wakf then pretend
to be devout and pious believers.

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