Indian Muslims, who form one seventh of India’s population, have to their credit, large waqf properties created during the last 800 years.
Even now, from time to time, the devout in the community regularly add to the existing awqaf to be utilised for the welfare of the community.
The extent of the lands which come under awqaf startles us. There are about three lakh registered awqaf which have about four lakh acres of land. While some of the awqaf are serving the purpose for which the donors created them and are contributing to the religious, social and economic welfare of the community, most are in a state of neglect. They are either lying idle or underutilised or being misused by individuals or groups for their own benefits.
After independence the central government passed Waqf Act in 1954, and finding it inadequate for proper management of awqaf another Act was passed in 1995. This Act gives sweeping powers to the central and state governments to effectively control the 35 state waqf boards in the country. Unfortunately most of these boards are non-functional and have become decorative pieces in the showcase of government which are managed by dishonest people. The state government usually use these boards to accommodate or patronise politicians who could not be otherwise given berths in cabinet or posts of profit. Many state governments have not constituted the boards, most have yet to carry out surveys of the properties which is mandatory under the 1995 Act. This apathy has resulted in rendering 70 per cent properties either useless or targets of corruption. Board members and officials act hand in gloves with land mafias and encroachers. These properties are allowed to be encroached upon, or rented at low rates or sold out for a pittance to commercial interests on far lower prices than the market rate.
In recent days glaring examples of such questionable transactions have come to light. A piece of land measuring 4532 square metres worth Rs 21 crore at prevailing market rate has been doled out to famous capitalist Mukesh Ambani for just Rs 16 lakh, on which he is constructing his 27-floor building in Mumbai. Public hue and cry and media criticism have up to now failed to stop the loot.
In some cases the governments themselves have indulged in dishonest deals and even in illegal occupation of waqf lands. Andhra Pradesh government took about 6000 acres of Waqf land. These lands in Vishakhapatnam are worth Rs 500 crore. The A.P. government allocated these huge tracts to NTPC and Hindujas at the laughably low rate of Rs 225 lakh per acre. Consequently, the Supreme Court ruled that the government did not have the right to sell the land which belonged to Waqf board.
If Waqf properties are properly managed and developed, they can at least partially solve the problem of economic backwardness of the Muslim community.
Concerted efforts on the part of Muslim leaders, their organisations and the government also are required to stem the rot and restore the health of the awqaf so that they may be utilised for the purpose for which they have been created. The question is: will some people come forward to bell the cat and will the government act honestly?