Waqf 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 waqf endowments in India, writes Firoz Bakht Ahmed
Waqf corruption in India can be said to symbolise the most
systematically-managed daylight robbery in India, perpetrated over
decades. Waqf boards have almost institutionalised the tendency to
wheel and deal in land donated in the name of Allah by the affluent
for the upkeep of orphans, widows, divorced women, educational and
charitable purposes and other social causes.
Waqf 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. About 77 per cent of the city of Delhi has
been founded on illegally-acquired waqf land. The CGO Complex,
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi High Court, Delhi Public School (Mathura
Road), Anglo Arabic School, newspaper offices at Bahadur Shah Zafar
Marg besides umpteen Central government offices can be seen standing
on waqf land. These waqf plots were lost because waqif management
laws are inadequate and the Central Waqf Council is a toothless
Meaning of Waqf
The concept of waqf is rooted in Quranic injunctions dealing with
charity: “And in their wealth the beggar and outcast had due share.”
(Chapter-26: Verse-19). Also, “Ye shall never attain to goodness
till ye give alms of that which ye love, and whatever ye give, of a
truth God Knoweth.” (Chapter-3: Verse-86). Islam’s followers
borrowed this concept of charity to set up the institution of waqf.
It forms an important branch of Muslim Law for it is interwoven with
the religious life and social economy of Muslims.
Literally, waqf means endowment of moveable or immovable 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 waqif (settler), in
his deed, appoints a mutawalli (manager or caretaker) for the
administration of the waqf. The waqif has the right to appoint
either himself or any Muslim as mutawalli. Waqf endowments can be
made in any form as enshrined in Qazis Act II of 1864, Dargah Khwaja
Saheb Act of 1955, Central Waqf Act of 1954, Waqf Amendment Act of
1959, UP Muslim Act of 1960, to name a few.
“For over a millennium, emperors, nawabs and Muslims in India have
been setting aside property and pledging it in the name of Allah for
charitable work. They wanted the earnings from the properties to go
towards the upkeep of orphans, widows and for other social causes
but the waqf boards are not doing their job honestly. At least Rs,
10,000 crore could be easily raised each year just from the rent
paid for waqf properties that have not been encroached upon ~ that
is 30 per cent of the entire endowment in India,” said Aziz Burney,
the group editor of the Rashtriya Sahara Urdu publications. He said:
“The legal cells are reluctant to move court to rid Waqf properties
of encroachers. The most convenient refrain is ‘files have been
lost’. Besides, lawyers of waqf boards are usually on the payroll of
encroachers who have already constructed multi-storey complexes on
waqf land and have sold them or leased them out for staggering
The Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Mr K Rahman Khan, said as per a
report of a joint parliamentary committee headed by him, waqf land
is only third in India in terms of quantum after tracts owned by
Indian Railway and the defence ministry, respectively.
How waqf has become an institution deeply mired in corruption can be
gauged from the land scam perpetrated by the Maharashtra Waqf Board.
It sold a 4,535 square-metre Waqf 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.
Similarly, in Bangalore, the land on which Windsor Manor Hotel
stands is worth more than Rs 600 crore but has been leased out to
the promoters of the hotel for only Rs 12,000 a month.
Most waqf properties have managers who treat even heritage sites as
their fief where they think nothing of developing commercial
structures and even homes as has happened in the case of Dargah
Khwaja Sa’adullah Naqshbandi at the historic heritage site of Anglo
Arabic School at Ajmeri Gate in Delhi. The Delhi Development
Authority had declared it a heritage site in 1994 and in response to
a PIL (no. 8759 of 2004) filed by this author, Delhi High Court
ordered the eviction of as many as 51 families who had encroached
upon the heritage property. But former occupants, property dealers,
smalltime politicians and local musclemen are trying to re-encroach
largely, as is rumoured, with the backing of the Delhi Waqf Board
chairman, Chaudhary Mateen Ahmed.
There are tenets which forbid the desecration of a widow’s dying
wish in the matter of pledging property for waqf purposes. But that
is done without remorse in most cases with the pledged land ending
up in the possession of builders, smalltime politicians or land
mafia. The ordinary Muslim holds waqf boards in too much esteem to
think of seeking legal recourse despite being aware of the
staggering corruption that feeds on them.
Such widespread corruption is also spawning a culture of extortion.
An optical shop had been set up illegally on the premises of
Fatehpuri Masjid after its owner got the necessary documents changed
with the help of waqf and mosque caretakers. Some so-called social
workers launched a tirade against the shop owner seeking his
eviction but curiously changed their stance after money changed
If not corruption, waqf boards are hamstrung by apathy. The waqf
property of Dargah Baba Kapur near the border that Uttar Pradesh
shares with Madhya Pradesh is spread over 550 villages. But not a
single penny from the income from the property goes to the local
waqf board. A pre-Independence era government department enjoys the
largesse. Though locals have repeatedly urged the board to move
court seeking restoration of funds for charitable purposes, it could
be hardly bothered.
Hand in glove
“Politicians, police, bureaucrats and land mafia covet waqf property
because those can be found mostly in prime locations. This, despite
the fact that waqf property cannot be sold or it’s use altered for
eternity. The interested parties have found ways to circumvent this
obligation. Many such properties are leased out after pockets of the
officials concerned have been sufficiently lined,” said the
journalist, Aziz Burney.
Unfortunately, most of the corrupt officials who sit on waqf boards
are Muslims well aware of the implications of violating pledges made
for charitable purposes. A builder or businessman first identifies a
Waqf property, approaches the members or chairman of the local board
and acquires it for a pittance 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. “In spite of owning property
spanning 600,000 acres, Muslims are one of the poorest communities
in India,” said eminent historian and scholar Prof Mushirul Hasan.
The waqf boards invariably have members who are puppets in the hands
of the state governments, which are instrumental in installing them
in the first place. As such, most are clueless about waqf management
and relevant laws. According to Mr Iqbal Mohammed Malak, a social
worker in Delhi, people aiming to make it big in politics generally
target waqf properties and funds donated at holy shrines.
Theologically, once properties are dedicated in the name of Allah
and waqf endowments made, the donation becomes perpetual,
irrevocable and inalienable and as such, a waqf entitlement always
remains a waqf entitlement.
During Muslim rule in India, there was no central body to look after
waqf properties. In British India, all endowments, whether Muslim or
non-Muslim, were managed by provincial governments. In
post-Independent India, the Central Waqf Council is responsible for
the management of Waqf properties. But it’s glaring inefficacy,
though exposed innumerable times earlier, scaled new heights when
Delhi High Court ordered a probe into the embezzlement of funds by
the Ajmer Dargah Khwaja Saheb Committee.
In Ajmer, of the umpteen waqf properties listed in the Dargah Khawja
Saheb Act of 1955, Jannat Hotel had been leased for 15 years to
Qayyum Khan. While the monthly market rent at that time had been Rs
100,000, the Dargah committee decided to charge only Rs 10,000 every
month. The lease deed (of which the author has a copy) signed on 18
August, 1999 bore the signature of Prof Akhtarul Wasey, the Dargah
committee president at that time. Any Dargah lease that goes beyond
5 years is deemed illegal as the committee is required to look for a
better-paying tenant every three or five years so that the upkeep of
the Dargah is not affected. The nine-member committee was dissolved
after the author submitted a 70-page report to Delhi High Court
pointing out the discrepancies.
Possession of piety, honesty, Islamic scholarship, a good family
background and sound knowledge of Sharia (Islamic Laws) is necessary
to be considered for the post of mutawalli or waqf administrator.
“Unfettered power that comes with the position often leads a
mutawalli to corruption and nepotism,” said Masoom Muradabadi,
editor of the Delhi-based Urdu weekly Khabardar Jadid. Mr Imtiaz
Ahmad Khan, a former chairman of the Delhi Waqf Board, points out in
his book What is Waqf? how Sultan Alauddin Khilji had sacked and
punished a mutawalli, Sheikh Hassan, after allegations of
defalcation of waqf funds against him had been found to be true.
In modern India, when upright officials seek a probe, the district
administration is more often than not interested, insisting that
removal of encroachments may lead to law-and-order or communal
problems. “Most waqf board members have little or no community
feeling or sense of accountability,” president of Zakat Foundation
of India Prof. Zafar Mahmood said.
Seeking a solution
Mr Asif Mohammed Khan, the RJD legislator for Okhla in Delhi, who is
fighting against encroachment on a graveyard in his constituency,
said the need of the hour was greater involvement of the Muslim
community in waqf affairs.
The Sachar Committee suggests an overhaul of the waqf board
structure as the current system does not serve well to attract the
right kind of people to the job of Waqf management. The panel mooted
an Indian waqf Service on the lines of the Indian Administrative
Service whose officers would work as chief executive officers (CEOs)
of waqf boards. The panel pointed out that in UP, one CEO, as it
were, was a Unani practitioner with little or no exposure to
management practices while another in Shillong had not even cleared
the school board examination.
There is a growing demand in the community for dissolving the
current waqf boards and replacing them with a new umbrella
organisation which will have sub-committees to look after education,
welfare of widows, medical needs of the community, mosques, dargahs
and the like. But what is even more important is that it should be
done without foresaking transparency, accountability and empathy.
The writer is an activist and a commentator on social and religious
This article first
appeared in The Statesman