By Syed Sultan Mohiddin
The Outlook (September 21, 2009) made a shocking revelation about the colossal delinquency by the Wakf Boards. The cover page printed these shameful letters: WAKF – INDIA’S BIGGEST LAND SCANDAL. Followed by this it said: “4,00,000 acres – 3,00,000 properties. Wakf boards around the country are doling out land meant for poor Muslims for a pittance.” Inside the glossy magazine, the cover story by Saba Naqvi has unveiled the height of dishonesty and lackadaisical attitude of the Wakf Boards.
The report has exposed as to how the Wakf Board officials, far from being the guardians of the Muslim properties worth thousands of crores of rupees, have allowed the encroachments, given the occupation of prime lands on ridiculously low rents and even resorted to outright sale of priceless properties. All these disgraceful acts they are doing, the author alleged, “to fill their pockets”. Some examples cited in the article would surely boil the blood of even a suave Muslim. The Maharashtra Wakf Board sold 4,532 square metres plot at the posh Altamount Road in Mumbai to Mukesh Ambani, for a measly Rs.16 lakh. He is building a 27-storey skyscraper on it. By any mean standards, the land would have fetched Rs.21 crore in the market. The 90,000 sq ft prime property at Lal Bagh in Bangalore with market value of about Rs.90 crore was sold for just 1 crore. In Aurangabad, 14 acres of land worth Rs.60 crore was sold for Rs.8 crores. [Courtesy: The Outlook].
Though one should categorically blame the Wakf Boards for the misuse of wakf properties, there are other factors too which have contributed to the hopeless situation. The snail’s pace in the justice-delivery system where cases are not cleared for decades on end, and the callous attitude of the local authorities that never bothered to execute the judicial orders are equally responsible. Even the Wakf laws do not have sufficient teeth to bite the offenders.
A Muslim graveyard in Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh) is a classic case to prove the point in question. An extent of 1.10 acre was granted by the Nawab of Kadapa around 260 years ago for its use as the burial ground. The graveyard had been under the control and use by the Muslim community until 1966, when suddenly a few hoodlums occupied around 22 cents of the land by flattening the tombs and erecting some huts over them.
THE ENDLESS SAGA
The Muthavalli of the graveyard, Mr. Allabaksh Miah, promptly approached the District authorities and pleaded for removal of the encroachments. The Wakf Board also addressed several letters to the District Collector informing that the graveyard is the Wakf Board property and no part of the same can be allotted to private persons. In the year 1967, the then District Collector, Mr. R.M. Sastry, on receipt of a letter from the Secretary of Wakf Board, Andhra Pradesh state, Hyderabad ordered the Municipal authorities to remove the encroachments. The Muthavalli went from pillar to post, pleading for the implementation of the orders from the Collector but the concerned authorities did not take any action to remove the encroachments.
The hooligans resorted to further encroachment of land by demolishing a few more tombs in 1970. This time, the Muthavalli decided to seek justice from the Judiciary. It has taken 12 years for the Court to give its verdict. In the year 1982, the Sub-Court of Kadapa in its judgement clearly said: “The District Collector has the right to remove the encroachments if there are any, taking into consideration the sentiments of the Muslim community.” The High Court too upheld the verdict of the sub-court, Kadapa in its judgement of 1987. As the District Collector did not care to execute the court orders – the Muthavalli got frustrated and handed over the maintenance of the graveyard in the year 1988 to the Committee of Roshan Munawwar Mosque, which is also situated in the premises of the same graveyard.
Now it was the turn of Mr. Jaffer Baig, President of Roshan Munawwar Mosque Committee, to walk through a thorny and exasperating road. He was a high-ranking officer in the government service as the Superintending Engineer before he retired in 1985. Initially he thought of leading a hassle-free life after retirement, but gave up the thought when he knew about the illegal occupancy of a Muslim graveyard. He took up the cause of liberating the occupied land. During the past 20 years, he did not leave any stone unturned to secure the wakf land from the clutches of illegal occupants. A massive Dharna organised under his leadership in 1993, was participated by around 5000 Muslims and a large number of secular and peace-loving non-Muslims. It jolted the then District Collector to convene a meeting at his bungalow by summoning the Committee members and the encroachers. A promise was made to the Committee that the matter will be resolved in a few days. ‘That day’ never came. As the years rolled by, Mr. Baig approached the authorities tirelessly without renouncing hope. The Civil Court of Kadapa passed the buck to the Wakf Board Tribunal in April 2000. The case is pending for disposal in the Wakf Board tribunal for nine long years! When this writer met Mr. Jaffer Baig at his house, he was preparing to go to Hyderabad to appear for the 157th adjournment in the Wakf Board tribunal. He is doing too much at his ripe age of 84 years. “Do you see light at the end of the tunnel?” asked this writer. “Why not? I do have faith in the law of the land,” he retorted.
The Wakf properties are under the clutches of unauthorised hands – in the name of lease, tenancy or encroachment. As the statistics reveals, it is the government, which is in the possession of large wakf properties. What the Muslim leadership and intelligentsia should fight for is for the passing of a law on the floor of the Parliament that gives statutory powers to the Wakf Boards, to enable them to take possession of all the notified Wakf lands in the country on a time-bound plan. Besides, the State Wakf Boards should be cleansed of the political brats who shall be replaced with bureaucrats having impeccable integrity.
The Wakf properties in the country are more than sufficient to address the myriad problems faced by the Muslim community like illiteracy, unemployment and socio-economic backwardness. The trillion-dollar question is: Will the Muslim parliamentarians raise their voice in the parliament for a special law with statutory powers to the Wakf Boards?
First published in Radiance Viewsweekly Vol. XLVII No.30, 2009-11-01 issue.