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Periscope
Auqaf between friends and foes
By Saeed Suhrawardy

The progress of a community depends mainly on two important factors: their human resources and official and non-official institutional support available to them. If the bulk of the community is concentrated in poorly remunerated skills, available in plenty, their low standard of living is a foregone conclusion. Their uplift would require shift of a major section to skills in demand, likely to get good returns in the market.

Among the institutional support that can help them in that process, state is most important. Unfortunately that factor has been generally operating adversely for Muslims. In the absence of support from the government, the community has to depend largely on its own institutional resources. In that perspective, their institutions-educational and not directly related to education, come into picture. 

Auqaf or endowments occupy an important place among them. Unfortunately this important institution has been a victim of not only state neglect, but evil designs of elements, expected to manage and develop them. There have been cases of mismanagement of Auqaf by Mutawallies, expected to function as trustees to fulfill the objects of Waqf or endowment. 

Waqf under Islamic law is the permanent dedication of a movable or immovable property for a pious or religious purpose and the title of that vests in God. If income from Waqf properties is available to the community after meeting the objects laid down by the Waqf, it may go a long way for removal of poverty, backwardness and meeting other social needs of the community. 

Immediately after partition of the country, due to the transfer of population between the two countries, Non-Muslim refugees occupied mosques, graveyards and property of Auqaf in 1947. By 1955 the leaders of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind realized that if proper remedial steps were not taken, after three years their adverse possession would become absolute under provisions of Limitation Act. So their recovery would be impossible. 

Apart from the Limitation Act relating to adverse possession, laws relating to acquisition of evacuee property, Zamindari abolition, and rent control adversely affected Auqaf. Exceptions from provisions of limitation were sought for protection of Auqaf. Initially exemptions were granted for two years. But there has been the demand for permanent exemption of Auqaf from the Limitation Act. 

The first step to evolve a consensus on the issues relating to Auqaf was taken in 1979. Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind convened All India Auqaf Conference. Delegates representing all schools of thought participated in the deliberations. 

There has been a strong demand for exemption of Auqaf from the Rent Control Act, wherever such legislation exists. In developed urban areas Waqf properties were rented out earlier according to the market rent of that period. Due to the rent control law, their rent remained frozen at unrealistic low level. With the meagre resources available, it is neither possible to maintain or develop the property. If they get exemption from rent control law, their income would increase several times. The increased income may be utilised for development as well as for welfare activities

The three-day conference on the preservation, survival and development of Waqf properties in Rajasthan, organized jointly by the State unit of All India Milli Council and the Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi, at Jaipur from October 25 to 27, has to be seen in that perspective. So far, the survival and preservation of Auqaf has been a major concern of the community. Their development can be taken up if they manage to survive. Their survival has been beset by several factors, not all of them may be attributed to state neglect, inaction or hostility.

Academicians, theologians, jurists and religious leaders participated in the deliberations. Among them were distinguished economist, A.M. Khusrau, noted lawyer, Mohammed Yusuf Muchala, Maulana Nizamuddin, General Secretary, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Justice Aftab Alam, Judge Patna High Court and famous anthropologist, A.R. Momin. 

The focus of the Conference was on productive utilization of Waqf properties of Rajasthan, worth crores of rupees, situated at prime locations in cities and towns. The conference issued a call for serious effort and planning to make the endowment system dynamic and fruitful in the modern age. Participants felt that the streamlining of Waqf could remove backwardness of the Muslim community to a significant extent. 

The welcome feature of the conference was the proactive role of the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. If Indian National Congress is serious about regaining its lost credibility among the minorities, other Congress-ruled states should follow in his footsteps.

Inaugurating the conference, Mr. Ashok Gehlot, Chief Minister of Rajasthan stated that the State Government had recently launched a fresh survey of Waqf properties, after a gap of 45 years. Arrangement for videography of Waqf property had been made for evidence of their existence. The Government had decided to register all of them in revenue records. He asserted that the Government is serious about removing encroachments and unauthorized occupations of Waqf lands.

Mr. Gehlot assured the participants that the State Waqf Board and the Waqf Committees in districts would be given more powers. For the first time in Rajasthan, a Cabinet Sub-Committee on Waqf headed by the Chief Minister, has been appointed to ensure protection of Wakf properties.

In that context, it may be recalled that survey of Waqf properties has been neglected in several states. Punjab Waqf Board, with a revenue exceeding 15 crores of rupees is no exception. Punjab Waqf Board so far looks after the properties not only in Punjab, but also in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. However no survey of Waqf properties in the area under its jurisdiction has been undertaken.

Mr. Gehlot said his Government would prefer removal of encroachments by persuasion instead of taking recourse to legal action. According to him legal action for vacation of encroachment may not be an efficacious remedy. Maulana Nizamuddin, General secretary, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, did not seem to agree with the view. He observed that the existing laws were inadequate for removal of encroachments. He called for framing of criminal law, to punish those who occupy those lands illegally. On the other hand, Mr. Gehlot called for generating awareness in the Muslim community about social and religious responsibilities of individuals for conserving Waqf endowments.

If it is not possible to end all cases of encroachment by legal action, accepting persuasion as the alternative, shall be expecting too much from the philanthropic side of human nature. Normally, vested interests in Waqf properties, wherever they exist may not be easy to dispense with. The General Council of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind at its meeting held on May 1, 2002 expressed its concern over the fact that even after the promulgation of Waqf Amendment Act of 1995, cases of misappropriation and embezzlement of Waqf properties continue. Unfortunately, politicians, officers and influential persons are involved in such activities. It may not be easy to dislodge them from their entrenched positions. They are in a position to thwart, delay or defeat legal action if initiated. Only a simpleton should expect them to surrender their interests to appeal or persuasion.

With about 25,000 registered Waqf properties in the state, Rajasthan occupies the second place, after Punjab, in the terms of assets. The figure does not include unregistered Wakf properties. Their exact number is not known.

The conference was mainly concerned with Waqf properties in Rajasthan, but the points raised and discussed there have relevance for administration and development of Waqf properties elsewhere also.

Mr. Ahmed Patel, Congress leader from Gujarat struck the right chord when he observed that the strengthening of Waqf institutions and streamlining of Waqf assets was in the national interest as they could render significant services to the largest minority in the country. He asserted that the restoration of Waqf properties could solve the socio-economic problems of Muslims.

In spite of legislations in 1984 and 1995, not much has been achieved in that direction. Waqf Amendment Act of 1984 did not meet the expectations of the community. The provisions of the latest Waqf Amendment Act of 1995 have not been fully carried out. Waqf Boards have not been constituted in all states. In Gujarat and Bihar Waqf Boards were not constituted underWaqf Amendment Act of 1995. 

There has been a firm opposition to a move by the Union Ministry of Law to trifurcate Punjab Waqf Board. Waqf Inquiry Committee of 1970 rejected the proposal after serious deliberations. The argument advanced against trifurcation, is that a parallel body -- Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee was constituted for the whole of Punjab and it continues, as it was constituted. So there is no justification for trifurcation of Punjab Waqf Board.

Conceived and founded with sincerity, piety and charity, Auqaf face an unsavoury fate. Muslims and Non-Muslims share the blame for misuse, mismanagement and misappropriation of their assets. They have to be saved from friends and foes alike. By law or persuasion? None of the two is an easy course. 
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