By Manzar Imam
During a lecture on “India’s Forgotten Heritage: Waqf Properties”, held recently at India International Centre sponsored by the India Harmony Foundation (IHF), speakers lamented the sorry status of Waqf properties. They held both the gov
ernment and mutawallis (custodians/managers) for their corruption, high handedness, inefficiency and lethargic attitude towards protecting, managing and administering these properties whose value runs into thousands of crores.
Speaking on the occasion, K Rahman Khan, Member of Parliament, who also headed the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Waqf and introduced the amendments in the Waqf Act, 2013 remarked that we (Muslims) are treating it (waqf) as a heap of mud, despite the fact that we are sitting on a gold mine.
He said that around 15 to 20 thousand crore annual income could be accrued only if the rental income of the waqf was properly managed and accused the present government of decreasing the rent of the leased waqf properties from the minimum five percent to 2.5 percent wondering what “sense of wisdom” was there in so doing.
Rahman was firm in stating that the characteristics of waqf could not be taken away by any law as decided by the Supreme Court. He said that law was necessary but it needed implementation as law itself would not be sufficient to protect waqf properties unless there was public awareness and the Muslim community took interest in it.
Naseem Ahmed, Chairman, National Commission for Minorities, observed that past was still ‘haunting’ Muslims and the legal route, in the face of mammoth problems facing the Waqf Boards and properties, was thought to be “not workable”. Ahmed held government responsible for the sorry status of waqfs in states like Punjab and Haryana.
Ahmed stressed on the need for “sensitization” about the waqf lands which was truly lacking. He felt that there was lack of interest, lethargy and even motives to harm the waqfs. He said that the role of the community was restricted to the mutawallis who are “just custodians” while the general Muslim is just not unaware of what is waqf, what are their incomes and how those incomes are utilised.
Differentiating between waqf and trust, Advocate Mushtaq Ahmad, who is pursuing some waqf cases in the Supreme Court, said that whereas a trust could be determined and wound up but “once a waqf, always remains a waqf”. Its form can change, but it remains a waqf.
A judge and member of Central Administrative Tribunal, Sudhir Kumar, suggested that in order to “bring the actions of mutawallis under scrutiny”, whenever any case is filed, the State Waqf Board should be made a necessary party to it.
Virendra Dayal, one of the trustees of IHF and former Chief De Cabinet United Nations, New York, suggested to extend the understanding of the subject it should be introduced into the syllabi of a variety of institutions such as law faculties and law universities in the widest possible range. He stressed on this to bring home the point that qualified people would be better placed and required to implement laws. Good people can implement a poor act very well, bad people can wreck a perfect act, he reasoned
In his inaugural lecture, Dr. Mohammad Rizwanul Haque began by quoting Prof. Humayun Kabir, who had in 1966 said that waqf properties, spread in the length and breadth of the country were so much that if managed properly, they may generate sufficient income to “meet the educational and other requirement of the community”.
The former secretary, Central Waqf Council, Government of India, Rizwanul Haque quoted Kabir to further the point that the community was “sitting on a gold mine” but the inherent problem was that the gold mine would remain useless unless the community was helped to develop the capacity to dig it out, process it, and make it usable for the market.
Speaking about the general perception of, and the real issues related to, auqaf, Rizwanul Haque said that the general rhetoric was that the mutawallis were corrupt and Boards were dens of corruption. However, he called it the half truth which was not the “root cause” as it leads to “oversight of some of the basic issues”. He felt that there were enough laws to deal with the problem. However, only laws “without administrative mechanism” were inefficient to tackle it.
Raising the question as to “who is to be blamed for it?”, he obliquely held responsible both the Boards and mutawallis along with finding flaws in the implementation of available laws saying that without realizing that the betterment of law does not automatically get translated into betterment in administration. He also decried the shortage of staff against the sanctioned strength in different waqf boards.
Rizwanul Haque, also known as Qaiser Shamim, suggested a re-look into the problems as only law making will not resolve the knotty issue, till arrangement for “proper implementation is made and necessary financial support is provided to the Boards” till they became “self-reliant”.
The programme ended with closing remarks by Kulsoom Noor Saifullah of IHF surprisingly without any resolution having been passed as proposed during the discussion. Dr Sabiha Alam, Dr Abuzar Khairi, Dr S. Farooq and others from the legal fraternity, media and members of the academia were present and some of them took part in the abruptly-ended discussion.
(Manzar Imam is a freelance journalist based in Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)