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Miserable condition of Auqafs in Himachal Pradesh

It is said that it is very difficult to understand the world. But now it can be said that it is easier to understand the world but it is a Herculean task to understand the complexities of Islamic Auqafs spread all over the country, specially those in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal. When the problem regarding mosques and other properties of Auqaf arises, particularly those situated in Shimla hills it becomes all the more difficult to understand whether the arguments and claims of illegal occupants of Waqf properties are correct or the acquisition of those managing Waqf properties are correct. The report under review pertains to the mosques located in Shimla and also about Auqaf which are under illegal occupation of followers of Islam themselves.

Waqf properties are spread all over the valleys of the high and picturesque mountains of Shimla. Though these are not much from the point of view of price, there are about ten mosques in Shimla some of which are very large but almost all of them are occupied by illegal inhabitants. The interesting thing is that whereas the expenses on account of water, electricity, cleanliness and salaries of Imams and Muazzins are paid by Punjab Waqf Board, the properties attached to these mosques etc are used, rather exploited, by these illegal occupants. A large number of such people are those from UP who work in orchards or own orchards which bear good and bumper crops of fruits.

Hundreds of workers and labourers from Kashmir are also settled here. In many mosques, only a small portion is left for offering prayers and all the remaining portions are occupied. Like waiting rooms at railway platforms beddings are spread all over, which remain there throughout the day. The sites and sizes of all beds is fixed. It is said that price of space or sites is also fixed. If some one goes, he allots that place to some one else. Some one revealed on condition of anonymity that a minimum area is transferred for 5,000 rupees. This practice has been going on right from 1947. This writer, on asking from a person lying on a bed in Shimla’s Jama Masjid, came to know that he had come to this place only six months ago. He admitted that he was living there with the permission of the man who was previously occupying that place.

It is said that before partition, 65% Muslims were settled in Shimla, majority of whom were Qureshis. But actually, there appears to be no such indication, with the exception of 10 mosques, graveyard and Idgah from which this claim could be confirmed whether such a large number of Muslims were inhabiting this city. According to some people there were many cultural and other landmarks, pertaining to Muslims but every thing was destroyed after partition. Muslim residents of Shimla think that there is too much of anti-Muslim bias here and after Babri Masjid demolition, poison of communalism has spread excessively here.

One of the reasons for difficulties faced in getting Waqf properties vacated by illegal occupants is that some bold and enterprising Imams have developed close relationship with leaders of the ruling party i.e BJP. They are occupying large and precious mosques for a long time but it appears that strictness of the administration and authorities of Punjab Waqf Board is a big handicap in their nefarious plans. The question therefore arises as to why the illegal occupation of Auqaf’s valuable properties could not be vacated so far?

According to insiders some staff members of the Punjab Waqf Board, including higher officials, are deeply involved in corruption. The head of the Auqaf in Shimla and Estate officer, Azmatullah is a sincere person and goes deep in every matter but he too is helpless because his opponents and occupants are much more powerful because they are fully aware of the misdeeds and follies of the central authorities of the Waqf Board which they can use as weapon. For example, there are two electricity meters in one mosque, one in the name of the mosque and the other in the personal name of the leader of the occupants. Some employees of the Waqf Board help such people. According to one person who has installed a meter in his own name, when he had applied to the electricity department for the meter, he had attached a written permission, duly stamped, by Waqf Board. This clearly shows that Waqf Borad employees are doing things which are not within their power.

After seeing Shimla’s Jama Masjid, one could get the impression that this is not a mosque but an inn. In the front, there are rows for offering prayers. In the open court and also at other places beddings are lying at different places. There were some journalists of print and electronic media also with me. We were surprised to see that in the open courtyard of the mosque a barber was carrying on his usual business. The presence of a barber in the mosque was becoming intolerable for me.

There is a big wooden hall in the courtyard of the mosque where the illegal occupants were busy in their usual business. The Kashmir Muazzin Ghulam Ahmad who is a paid employee of Punjab Waqf Board told me that funeral prayers were held in this hall. Moreover, Tablighi Jamat’s and other functions were also held here. He said that in this hall he had heard speeches of Shaikh Abdulla and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In reply to a question Ghulam Ahmad told me that after independence there was an agreement between Shaikh Abdullah and Himchal’s then chief minister, Dr Parmar under which labourers and workers in large number from Kashmir had come to Himachal for whom labour halls were built. These halls were, however, insufficient for such a large number. Thereafter the labourers occupied the deserted mosques where no prayers were held at all.

Gulam Ahmad further told me that before independence Muslims virtually ruled Shimla in the name of the Birtish. But today Muslims of Shimla are victims of prejudice and conservatism. Muhammad Yasin, who has made the mosque as his night shelter, justifies people’s stay in mosque by saying that if we are not in the mosques, there will not be participants in the five-times prayers. Moreover, other people will occupy it, build rooms and sell at exorbitant prices. He was of the opinion that those who are living in the mosques are in fact preventing the mosque from becoming desolate.

The occupants in Jama Masjid are Kashmiri Muslims whereas those in the Qutub Masjid are from Chilkano town, district Sahranpur. Women live in the upper portion of Qutub Masjid who do all household work such as cooking, washing clothes etc in the mosque itself. When we talked to people living in Qutub Masjid and asked about their occupying the mosque, they did not say anything in response to our questions except that their leader Liaqat Ali will reply to all our questions. A short while later they brought Liaqat Ali who said that they have formed ‘Chhabri Reforms Union’ Shimla’ which looks after the problems of labourers. He devoted most of his conversation in spewing venom against Punjab Waqf Board. According to him, Himachal’s Waqf properties were entrusted to Punjab Waqf Board in 1982. From that time onwards their conditions have gone worse. He said that there are about a dozen mosques in Shimla which include Jama Masjid, Kashmiri Masjid, Qutub Masjid, Moti Masjid, Customy Masjid, Najoli Masjid, Janoog Masjid, Baloo Ganj Masjid, Pruana Barrier Masjid, Kahkashashan Masjid and Mashanware Masjid. All those mosques, though under the supervision of Punjab Waqf Board, are in danger.

He further said that if they are not there, employees of Punjab Waqf Board will allot all graveyards, Idgah and mosque land to others at throwaway prices and make huge fortunes for themselves. He said that Najool graveyard and Customy graveyard are being allotted. If they are not prevented from doing so, where shall we bury our dead? he asked.

Whereas on one hand Muslims have occupied and are leaving the mosques of Shimla, on the other hand non-Muslims have occupied all properties of Waqf. A notable thing is that Waqf properties in Himachal Pradesh have not so far been exempted from Rent Control Act. Hence the tenants are occupying Waqf properties and have become owners. Most of the tenants do not pay rent at all and rents of big shops in famous and grand markets are fixed at nominal amounts.

In a telephonic conversation with the administrator of Punjab Waqf Board, Dr Rizwanunl Haque admitted that once he had found a woman washing clothes near the pulpit of a mosque in Shimla. He also said that he is the first administrator who toured Shimla and took stock of all Waqf properties. Much pressure was put on him and advised to refrain form doing so because, he was told, people occupying Waqf properties are very dangerous, but even then he toured Shimla and reviewed all properties. 

He said that in Himachal, expenses of Auqaf are much more than its income. If somehow illegal occupation could be vacated and misuse and exploitation of Waqf properties could be stopped, Punjab Waqf Board in Himachal can make up all its losses. He further said that for this purpose he is in touch with legal experts. When asked about transfer of employees, he said that on receipt of complaints, inquiry is conducted and if considered necessary, transfers are made.

The administrator further said that at the time of partition, Punjab was a large province. The present Punjab came into being on Nov 1970. Himachal and Haryana were later on separated. Punjab Waqf Board was given the responsibility of looking after the safety and interests of the Auqafs of all these three states which the Board is doing. In November 1981, the Board was separated because of financial irregularities and ever since then it is like that. He also said that the Board is making rapid progress and this year its income has exceeded Rs.16 crores.

¯ Shabbir Shaad
(Translated from urdu)

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