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Waqf scam in West Bengal
By Md. Shahid Rafique
Kolkata: Waqf report is out. An arrest has been made. Investigations have begun. But the situation remains the same, as many questions remain yet to be answered .The Opposition is demanding that the report be made public .The problem which began in 1996, has still not reached its nemesis. In Feb 1996, irregularities were first detected at a Wakf property on Collin Street, Kolkata, which involved the prime accused Mr Hamidul Huda and his family. A complaint was lodged by a member of the Wakf Board with the city police which started an inquiry. The State Minority Commission too was flooded with the similar reports. Prominent personalities, including a minister were named. Problems mounted when the then leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Atish Sinha demanded a judicial probe into the scandal in July 1996. Mr Pradyut Sengupta, the former state secretary submitted a report, which provided deep insights into the nature and extent of the state’s biggest ever scam.
Nakhoda Mosque, Kolkata
The report laid bare the details of the corruption and illegalities committed in the management of the Wakf properties during the Left Front rule. This unnerved the Marxists who decided that something should be done. So Jyoti Basu appointed a one-man judicial commission headed by Justice Gitesh Ranjan Bhattacharya in March 1997.Testimonies from the representatives of several Muslim organizations and Imams were recorded . After nearly 5 years of investigation, an inquiry report was submitted on 31 Dec 2001 to the West Bengal government. On the basis of this report, Mr Hamidul Huda, a CPI-M leader and former member of the Wakf Board was arrested after six months.
So far, so good. Huda had come to Kolkata from Siwan, Bihar, in 1956 and started working as a carpenter. He gained confidence of local representatives and became a member of the Wakf Board in 1981.Gradually he amassed huge property. For 15 years, he remained member of the Board that owns 8,044 estates across the state . As a Board member, he reportedly terrorized his colleagues. The real test begins now for the government. The Opposition, especially the Trinamul Congress which is yet to receive the report, is demanding a CBI probe into the matter. Mr Pankaj Banerjee, leader of the Opposition, stressed that people have a right to know who were Mr Huda's accomplices and the extent of their involvement. Several questions were raised as to how was Huda allowed to lease out the Wakf property to developers assuring good returns to the Board officers and getting it passed in the Board meetings. Questions are also put on the integrity of the board members who allowed him to flout the rules. When asked to comment on the transparency of the Board's dealings, the present CEO of the Wakf Board Mr Abdul Matin replied, "All the dealings are very transparent. The resolutions are taken by all the members and then executed .We had stopped any kind of lease after the enactment of 1995 Act. The entire Board is under this allegation .The enquiry is on."
With so many unanswered questions, and nobody owning up, the government has a Herculean task before it if it wants to clear its name from the scam. The reason being that the Opposition believes that the prime accused Mr Hamidul Huda was just being made a scapegoat to shield CPI-M leaders. Many feel that if the LF government wants to clear its name it should take upon itself very seriously to follow the recommendations suggested by Justice GR Bhattacharya Commission report. The recommendations are as follows:
· Decentralise Wakf properties management and form district Wakf boards in view of the mess over listed and unlisted properties throughout the state.
· Prevent concentration of power and plug the routes to escape responsibilities by the Wakf Board members and Wakf Commissioner.
· Fix collective and individual responsibility and bar anybody from holding office for more than one term. A member or his close relatives should not be involved in transfer and transaction of Wakf property.
· Laws and rules regarding lease and tenancy should be changed .
· Complete survey and enrollment of Wakf properties in the 'quickest possible time.'
· Empower trustees of Wakf properties to move court against unauthorized sale.
· No sale of Wakf properties to be registered without the board’s permission. The government has already taken action to avoid further dilemmas .Measures are being planned to prevent recurrence of similar irregularities and lapses. Elections were held to the Wakf Board and no tainted member got a berth. Survey of Wakf property is being undertaken. Tribunal has been set up and more will be constituted if the situation demands. Responsibilities for Board members and commissioners are now being fixed and to give more authenticity to the working of the Wakf, tenure restricting Bill would be considered after consulting the centre. Although the government has already started implementing some of the recommendations it has yet to go a long way to prove that it was wrong on the part of the Opposition to label it bigger than the fodder scam in Bihar.