Allegations against the board
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
Apropos Allah’s Left the Building (Sept 21), it’s good to see Outlook continuing to blaze a lonely trail with its investigations and exposures. That said, the wakf board scams are a brief diversion compared to our biggest land scandal, the special economic zones (sezs). The government is doling out all sorts of sops to ensure that these ‘princely estates’—some 600 of them now—can operate like small kingdoms. Except for flying their own flags and having their own ambassadors, they look to be autonomous in all other respects. Devinder Sharma, Delhi
On the morrow of Independence, Nehru had abolished jagirdari and zamindari on the grounds that they were symbols of feudalism. The wakfs weren’t because Nehru wanted to create a votebank. As far back as 1894, the Privy Council in the Abul Fata case clearly characterised the wakfs as a perpetuity of the worst kind. K.R. Phanda, Delhi
Religion does not come in the way of corruption, be it of any kind or of any scale. On the contrary, it’s now a shield to protect the corrupt. Nasir Ehsan, Delhi
The historical angle is important here. It’s ‘Hindu land’ which was ‘donated’ to those of the faith by Muslim rulers. This fact can’t be overlooked. Dr Vijaya Rajiva, Montreal
It’s surprising that there is no mechanism available to recover properties like the Ambani one, even though it was “grabbed” in full public view. Ali Naqi Desnavi, Bhopal
It was ‘Hindu’ land to begin with. Ill-gotten wealth gets squandered in the end. Asha, Delhi
India should learn from Pakistan how to deal with minority property rights. The latter solved this problem for its Hindu citizens a long time ago. The ‘scheme’ is ongoing for Christians there though. A.N. Banerjee, Newcastle
K. Rahman Khan has been kind enough to give statistics about wakf properties. He could have spared a moment to talk about his involvement in gobbling up smaller wakf properties and controlling institutions through cronies in Bangalore. Mohamed Suhail, Mysore
Outlook needs to be more alert to internal inconsistencies: 90,000 sq ft of land in Lalbagh, Bangalore, is worth Rs 90 crore but 45,000 square feet in Altamount Road, Mumbai—a far more expensive market—is worth just Rs 21 crore? Nitin Kibe, Washington
The state wakf boards are loaded with trustees from the ruling parties. Rotten seeds don’t fall too far from the tree. Jabir O.M., Thrissur
It would be more accurate to write waqf, rather than wakf. There are two ‘k’ sounds in Arabic, one light, the other heavy. The Hindi press has already ruined the pronunciation of two generations when it comes to Urdu/Persian words by relinquishing the dot. Read as it is spelt now, Ramzaan becomes Ramjaan (whereas the Arabic Ramadaan could have served just as well), Faiz becomes Faij, and, of course, Naqvi becomes Nakvi. Rachna Singh, on e-mail
The Outlook article Allah’s Left the Building (Sep 21) has touched upon an important issue. Kudos for your effort.
I congratulate Outlook on the cover story Allah’s Left The Building (Sep 21). The men who are siphoning away funds meant for the socially disadvantaged and orphaned have no right to be called Muslims. It’s time such boards were dissolved and a new system, involving teachers, lawyers, journalists, social workers etc is put in place. Looking forward to more such investigative stories; one on the plight of Urdu-medium schools is a must.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT