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Wakf boards mired in corruption

Recently, Maharashtra government has suspended the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Wakf Board, Naseema Bano Patel after a preliminary inquiry found her guilty of ruling a wakf property worth Rs. 2,500 crore in Nashik as a non-wakf in early 2016.  The 55-acre property, at a prime location in Nashik, now has a township coming up on it after the builder took possession of it by paying compensation to encroachers who became the legal heir of the land after the CEO declared the land non-wakf. As per the law, a wakf is an endowment made by a Muslim to a religious, educational or for charitable cause. It can neither be transferred nor sold by any person; even a legal heir of the one who had wakf (donated) his property. The land in question belonged to the Masjid Doodhwari Katra, Morwadi, Nashik. It was first donated as a wakf land for a mosque by Shah Jahan in the 15th century. Interestingly, the Revenue Department has all documents – starting from the Shah Jahan’s order till the last wakf survey in 1997-2000. Even in the survey, the property was declared as wakf. The department even has the Shahi order (sanant).

Maharashtra has around 97,000 acres of wakf land. The Marathas and Peshwas who ruled Maharashtra in 18h century also documented the land as wakf property. In 1923, during the British rule, the document was again notified as wakf property in the Bombay Gazette. The survey of 1997-2000 confirmed it again. Earlier too, the Congress party urged and demanded a full-fledged probe into the wakf properties, as number of properties, encroachments and the ongoing disputes, especially between the Revenue and other government departments with the Wakf Board. There are many accusations of corruption against several officials of the WaKf Board suggest that the real duties of these officials have changed from maintaining of wakf properties for the benefit of Muslim community to using their authority and power in illegally selling off wakf lands and properties at cheap rates in return for cut offs. Hardly any community member is ever benefited from these lands allotted for Muslim’s welfare. Many Muslims are shelterless, even today after 70 years of Independence. In spite of owning property spanning 600,000 acres, Muslims are one of the poorest communities in India.

Wakf means donation of transferrable or fixed property by Muslims for the welfare of the poor and the needy and for maintaining properties dedicated to mosques, tombs, orphanages, shrines, imambaras, madrasas and the like. The wakif has the right to employ either himself or any Muslim as mutawalli (manager or custodian or Caretaker). Wakf endowments can be made in any form as enshrined in Qazis Act II of 1864, Dargah Khwaja Saheb Act of 1955, Central Wakf Act of 1954, Wakf Amendment Act of 1959, UP Muslim Act of 1960, to name a few. The wakif (pilgrim or the settler), in his deed, appoints a mutawalli for the administration of the wakf.

Since ages, the greedy politicians, police, bureaucrats and land mafia covet wakf property because those can be found mostly in prime localities. Unfortunately, most of the corrupt officials who sit on Wakf boards are Muslims well aware of the implications of violating pledges made for charitable purposes. This, despite the fact that wakf property cannot be sold or it’s use transformed for infinity. The interested parties have found ways to circumvent this obligation. Many such properties are leased out after pockets of the officials concerned have been adequately lined. A builder or businessman first identifies a wakf property, approaches the members or chairman of the local board and acquires it for a mite after bribing the board members. Lack of accountability and a defined law in this regard come to their aid. Thousands of mosques and even graveyards have been encroached upon likewise across the country.

The Wakf boards invariably have members who are puppets in the hands of the state governments, which are involved in fixing them in the first place. As such, most are incompetent about wakf management and relevant laws. The Citi Central Mall which stands in Central Mumbai was constructed on land bought from the Wakf Board of Maharashtra. Before Citi Central was constructed on that land, an Orphanage under the Haji Zakariya Ahmed Patel Mohammadan Orphanage & Asylum Trust used to stand there. This land was sold for just Rs. 1 crore in September 2004 to Neel Kamal Realtors & Builders Pvt Ltd. The estimated value of that land in 2004 was Rs. 100 Crores. How wakf has become an institution deeply mired in corruption can be gauged from the land scam perpetrated by the Maharashtra Wakf Board. It sold a 4,535 square-metre wakf plot in the upmarket Altamount Road to Mr. Mukesh Ambani for a mere Rs. 21.05 crore in 2003, when its market value was not less than Rs. 500 crore. Mr. Ambani’s 27-storey home stands on the plot now. Wakf boards have almost institutionalised the tendency to wheel and deal in land donated in the name of God. Only a transparent system of management can extinguish the culture of corruption, nepotism and greed that is consuming wakf endowments in India.

The Maharashtra Wakf Board chief executive officer (CEO) ND Pathan was caught red handed accepting bribe of Rs. 30 lakhs by the Anti-Corruption Bureau. He is known to have issued several non-objection certificates to builders in Mumbai illegally. Why is the Wakf Board selling their lands in the first place and even if they are selling it then why take a pittance instead of crores? The deal has been termed by many as illegal or shady.

Congress leader Arif Naseem Khan also alleged for misusing several wakf lands for private construction business. He also let other builders come up with their construction projects in Mumbai’s prime Wakf land and AV possesses all the papers in this regards. Wakf corruption in India can be said to signify the most systematically-managed daylight robbery in Mumbai and across India, perpetrated over decades.

There are additional allegations of financial irregularities in the leasing of a part of the Pir Baghdadi Dargah in Mumbai by the Wakf Board to a hotel for a mere Rs. 70 lakhs whereas the property’s value is close to Rs. 14 crores. Similarly, the Crime Investigation Department has registered four separate cases of criminal breach of trust and criminal conspiracy against former Andhra Pradesh State Wakf Board chairman Syed Ghulam Afzal Biyabani alias Khusro Poasha and others for allegedly causing huge loss to the board by misusing their official positions and leasing or selling wakf property at very cheap rates. Wakf endowments in India are staggering. There are around 800,000 registered properties and as much as 6,00,000 acres of land , the largest in the world. Today, the Wakf Board stands smeared with serious corruption allegations. Several corruption cases have been registered against them across the country.

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Dr. Vaidehi Taman
Dr. Vaidehi is an Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and an Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. Since 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond the news (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which she caters for her sister-concern Kaizen-India Infosec Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

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