Indian Waqf Service: Impeccable remedy of waqf mismanagement

Commentary on Waqf Bill 2010 – Part II

By Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood

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Just visualize a district where a veterinary doctor or a retired primary school teacher, never trained in governmental administration, takes the charge as District Magistrate. What kind of administration would the district have? What kind of relationship, or absence thereof, this DM would be able to have with his counterparts in other districts? Will he carry any significance in the eyes of the Principal Secretaries of the State Secretariat? What will be the impact of these constraints on the administration of that district? Obviously there will be chaos and decline rather than orderliness and development.

Such a situation mostly obtains in the state Waqf Boards. The CEO works daily for more than eight hours. He is supposed to ensure proper utilization of tens of thousands of Waqf properties, look after them, remove illegitimate occupation thereupon, monitor the trial of cases in the Waqf Tribunal, lease out Waqf properties, liaise with senior officers of the government departments at state and district level etc. Can it be imagined that the Waqf administration will ever prosper under the stewardship of an incumbent who never had any training or experience of handling such specialized works, who is unaware of the plethora of relevant laws, who doesn’t have deep understanding of the legal complexities, who is unable to even read the Waqf documents, who is considered by the fellow government officials as quite junior to them in hierarchy, who thus does not receive the benefit of their camaraderie ? The answer is obviously a big loud ‘no’.

Qualifications for becoming Waqf CEO

Information collected under the RTI Act has revealed that during the decade 2001-2011 in 28 Waqf Boards of India there were 98 occupants of the CEO’s posts. Out of these only three were government officers exclusively working as CEO, four were government officers holding CEO’s post as additional charge and the remaining ninety-one were not government officers. These were veterinary doctor, primary school teacher, research scholar, retired Naib-Tahsildar, etc. The Sachar Committee was informed by one waqf board chairman that his CEO was ‘matric-failed’. In another board the incumbent was a fresh Unani graduate. None of them had any grounding in Waqf administration.

Reiterating these facts, the Joint Parliamentary Committee led by the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha Shri K Rahman Khan has mentioned in its Report of 2008 that the Chief Ministers of various states expressed their concern to the JPC that Muslim officers are usually not readily available for appointment as CEO in Waqf Boards as there is acute paucity of Muslim officers in the States. Because of this invariable constraint inexperienced, unqualified, non-governmental individuals get appointed as the CEO.

Waqf boards are divided on sectarian lines but Sachar recommendation to create Indian Waqf Service is rejected. [TCN Photo]

Thus, the Sachar Committee report recorded: It has been noticed that the CEOs of Waqf Boards are not of appropriate level in the state bureaucracy. Because of this the Waqf Board’s work continuously suffers. Therefore, it is necessary that the CEO should be a full-timer and a senior level officer in the governmental hierarchy. It would be better that officers of All India or Central Services (on deputation) get appointed as the CEOs of the Waqf Boards. It would be advisable that a new cadre (of specially trained officers) is constituted for the management of State Waqf Boards and Central Waqf Council. These officers need to be aware of Islamic law and Urdu language as most of the Waqf deeds are in that language.

Sachar recommendation on Waqf Cadre rejected

However, the Government rejected this recommendation made by the Sachar Committee which had collected country-wide information coupled with deep study and investigations. Under the Right to Information Act, the Zakat Foundation of India asked the Ministry of Minority Affairs (a) what is the reason of this rejection and (b) what alternative arrangement has been made to ensure the availability of senior Muslim officers for the appointment of Waqf Board CEOs. The Ministry refused to tell the reason of rejecting this important recommendation given by Sachar Committee as according to the Ministry this subject is not covered under the definition of ‘information’ as per the RTI Act. Surely this is an instance of bureaucratic high-handedness inflicting injustice upon a hapless community. In respect of the second question, the Ministry said that the matter is under its consideration.

But during the last five years, the Ministry has been unable to make any alternative arrangements till date to ensure that senior Muslim officers are readily available for appointment as CEOs in all the state Waqf Boards. In the meanwhile, the ZFI filed an appeal to the Central Information Commission which instructed the Ministry to let the ZFI inspect the relevant files in the Ministry and to provide to it copies of all the papers as desired by ZFI.

The ZFI team found that in respect of this vital well argued Sachar recommendation the Ministry’s Deputy Secretary Shri Virendra Singh recorded: This is not feasible. Consequently the Cabinet Note prepared by the Ministry carried the following one liner: It is not recommended to make a separate service cadre for the Waqf. Apart from the above note of Deputy Secretary Virendra Singh and this cabinet note, the Ministry of Minority Affairs and the Government do not have any record to show that this matter was ever a subject under consideration at any higher level.

Ghettoizing Muslims

Thus pushed to the wall, the ZFI began to raise this issue through the media to apprise the Waqf well-wishers of the goings on. In reaction, the Minority Affairs Minister told Ms Avantika Ghosh of Times of India on June 30, 2011: We are opposed to Waqf Cadre as we do not want to make a separate world for Muslim citizens in our country. Simultaneously, Salman Khurshid also told “If there is a separate cadre of government officials for Muslims, then what else is ghettoization?” Mind you, between 1939 and 1944, ghetto used to be an earmarked area in Germany where Jews were settled before being killed en mass. Later on, this term was broadly used for some specific kind of conditions in the world such as a separate settlement for socially neglected and deprived persons of the city. Thus the Minister contemptuously ruled out a faith-specific service cadre.

Thereafter, the ZFI published and distributed a booklet titled: Like Hindu Endowments Service, establish Indian Waqf Service – Do not discriminate against Muslims. This booklet cited state laws under which there is a separate service cadre available for the maintenance of Hindu temples and endowments in the states for many years and for joining which professing Hindu religion is a fundamental requirement. The appointments to these positions are made through the state public service commissions, the officers get their salaries from state government treasury and they are provided government accommodations. The states include Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh etc.

On the other hand, according to the Kashi Vishvanath Temple Trust Act, five Principal Secretaries of Uttar Pradesh Government, the Divisional Commissioner and the District Magistrate of Varanasi are the members and officers of this trust. As per law, all of them must profess Hindu religion. It is mentioned in the Act that if there is any non-Hindu working in any of these governmental positions, then the Hindu officer next below him will be a member of the trust.

In the meantime, the National Commission for Minorities invited the ZFI to make a detailed presentation before itself regarding the Indian Waqf Service issue. That was done. Later, on 30 November 2011 the NCM Chairman sent a letter to the Minorities Affairs Minister saying: “It is universally agreed that the wealth of India’s Waqf properties the benefits of which should ideally have flown to those in need, with some exceptions, been subjected to mismanagement. This was therefore a challenge engaging the concern of the Sachar Committee. The recommendations of that Committee’s report have not been disputed. Hence the NCM’s recommendtion for expeditious adoption and implementation by the government. This is for the kind consideration of the Government.”

Earlier to this, on 31 July 2011, the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha K. Rahman Khan also gave a statement to that a new cadre of Waqf officers should be formed under the Central Waqf Council. He added that there is no relationship of communal separatism or ghettoization with making a separate Waqf cadre.

As a result of these interventions the Minorities Affairs Minister wrote on to the Chairman of National Commission for Minorities as follows:

The recommendation of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Waqf got the creation of an all-India Waqf Service was examined in the Ministry and it was found that State Waqf Boards have the autonomy to decide the number of their personnel, their deployment, status and pay. State Boards do not have a defined relationship with the CWC. Unlike the position between the States and the Central Government and therefore the replication of an all-India cadre on the lines of the All India Services (AIS) is not practical. An amendment of the Waqf Act to induce the envisaged centralization may neither be legally feasible nor desirable. Therefore, this recommendation of the Sachar Committee was not accepted by the Governemnt.

Further, to ensure that senior Muslim officers are posted as CEOs of State Waqf Boards, it has been proposed in the Waqf (Amendment) Bill, 2010 that the CEO shall be an officer not below the rank of Deputy Secretary to the State Government. This provision, therefore, does not exclude the appointment of a semi or officer as the CEO of a Waqf Board.

The Zakat Foundation if India has also stated that the Waqf Act does not lay down any qualifications for persons to be appointed as Secretary, CWC. It is pertinent to mention that the criterion/procedure of appointment of the Secretary, CWC has already been laid down in CWC Rules, 1998.

A copy of the above mentioned letter has been forwarded by the NCM Chairman to ZFI seeking its comments. All the objections raised by the Ministry of Minority Affairs are prima facie easily controvertible. ZFI is currently in the process of collecting additional relevant information before giving its counter-comments.

For six decades, half a million Waqf properties in the country are helplessly staring in our face as if saying – Khaak ho jaayengey ham tumko khabar honay tak – By the time you do realize us to be worthy of your attention we would burn down to ash and disappear in thin air.

Part 1 of the three-part series :

The author is president, Zakat Foundation of India, he can be contacted at [email protected]