[Reader-list] The recent big news - Corruption (with an Islamic tinge)
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Sat Sep 12 17:41:57 IST 2009
*Allah’s Left The Building
*Meant for Muslim welfare, Wakf lands are being sold for a song by its
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Also In This Story
delhi wakf board chairman’s view
On A Wink And A Prayer <http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?261791>
He cannot do much, says the Delhi Wakf board chairman
- *‘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
- *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
- *4 lakh acres* is 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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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