The Uttar Pradesh government led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has ordered a survey of all properties managed by Sunni and Shia Central Waqf Boards in the state to find out anomalies, if any, in the ownership of properties and to find out how these properties were acquired.
There are presently nearly 1,62,229 waqf properties, which include nearly 1,50,000 properties registered with the Sunni Waqf Board and nearly 12, 229 properties registered with Shia Waqf Board, the values of which run into several thousands of crores.
“The survey is being done with good intention and orders have been given to identify Waqf properties first”, said Dharampal Singh, UP Minister for Waqf and Haj Affairs. The order for surveying all Waqf properties has been sent to all district magistrates and they have been asked to submit details of the properties within one month.
The survey is meant to find out whether waqf properties have been illegally occupied by individuals or organizations. Under Islamic customs, properties that are donated for religious and welfare work come under the category of ‘Waqf’, which means a charitable, religious endowment. This property, once donated, is treated as “Allah’s property”.
The state government had received numerous complaints about reported sale of waqf properties at rates lower than the prevailing market prices, with huge bribes paid to some Waqf Board members. It has also been found that some Board members appointed their acolytes as caretakers (mutawallis) of waqf properties, who grab them through various means. Waqf properties which are considered ‘Allah’s properties’ because of donations by people, are normally used as Imambara, mosque, kabristan (burial ground), Eidgah or ‘Karbala’ ground.
Waqf properties are also used for building schools colleges and hostels for the betterment of Muslim community. If there is any commercial property on Waqf land, the earnings from the property is used for the welfare of the community.
The game begins when Waqf Boards appoint caretakers or mutawallis to look after these properties. These caretakers in connivance with property dealers and other vested interests, sell these properties at throwaway prices or allow outsiders to grab them. Lakhs and crores worth bribe money is paid for acquiring these waqf properties. In Delhi, AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan is facing charge of demolishing a madarsa, and built shops in its place. These shops were rented out at nominal rates, and, in return, crores of rupees in bribes were paid.
According to UP Shia Waqf Board chairman Ali Zaidi, waqf properties have become the favourite targets for ‘land mafia’. The Waqf Board law clearly says, no property shall be rented or leased out at less then 2.5 per cent of market value, and no rent or lease agreement shall be for a period exceeding 11 months, but these rules have been flouted.
Ali Zaidi had lodged complaints about illegal occupation of six major waqf properties, like Moti Masjid in Lucknow’s Thakurganj, the burial ground in Mahanagar locality of Lucknow, the Imambara in Lal Bagh and the Chhota Karbala in Prayagraj. He had also alleged that a large portion of Ghulam Haider Imambara in Prayagraj was illegally sold to land mafia, and some portions were rented out.
The accused was Waqar Rizvi, who was appointed caretaker (mutawalli) by the then Shia Waqf Board chairman Waseem Rizvi. Later, local authorities used bulldozers to raze illegal constructions on Imambara land and the matter was handed over to CBI for probe. According to Farman Naqvi, advocate for Imambara in Allahabad High Court, the entire conspiracy was masterminded by the then Shia Waqf Board chief Waseem Rizvi.
According to one calculation, nearly 60 to 70 per cent waqf properties in UP have been illegally occupied. Across India, Waqf Boards owned nearly four lakh acres of land in 2009, which went up to 18 lakh acres by 2022. Presently, Waqf Boards are the third largest owner of properties in India, after Army and Railways. In most of the states, board members appoint their own men as caretakers (mutawallis) to occupy such properties, and in reverse, even government owned or private land is also shown as waqf property and occupied by vested interests.
I would like to mention a stark example of how properties are acquired in the name of waqf. In Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, an entire village was shown as waqf property despite the fact that most of the population in this village belonged to Hindu community. There is a 150-year-old temple in this village. Yet, the ancestral homes and land of residents in this village, were sought to be occupied by showing them as waqf properties. The people of this village had to take NOC (no objection certificates) from the Waqf Board for selling their properties.
Since documents relating to waqf properties are tampered with, such a survey by UP government is a welcome step. There is another example. The famous Chandrashekhar Azad Park (formerly Alfred Park) in Prayagraj, where the great revolutionary shot himself during an encounter with British Indian police in 1931, was shown as waqf property before the Allahabad High Court. There are thousands of similar cases, and the Muslim ulema is now supporting Yogi Adityanath in his move to carry out a state-wide survey.
Yogi government’s order relates to survey of all waqf properties registered after 1989. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi questioned why the 1989 cut-off year was decided. UP government sources said, on April 7, 1989, the revenue department of the then Congress government led by Chief Minister Narayan Dutt Tiwari had issued an order under which uncultivable land was “illegally registered” as waqf property.
The order stated that since several waqf properties are registered as fallow land, the revenue records should be corrected and the properties should be mentioned as kabristan, masjid or Eidgah. Because of this order, thousands of government and panchayat land were registered as waqf properties.
On September 7 this year, the Yogi government revoked the 1989 revenue department order. It directed all divisional commissioners and district magistrates to examine, within one month, all proceedings that were carried on under the 1989 order, in order to correct revenue records accordingly. The survey of waqf properties will also be completed by October 8.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, while questioning the 1989 deadline, alleged that the UP government is targeting Muslims. “This will not end with surveys of madarsas and waqf properties. The UP government wants to occupy waqf properties.”
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said, “those who were claiming to make UP a trillion-dollar economy, are now embroiling Hindus and Muslims in disputes. Yogi must reveal his plans for making UP an economic powerhouse of India”.
On February 21 this year, the Centre had sent a letter to all state governments asking them to correct their land records after conducting surveys, as numerous complaints had been received about waqf properties being registered in the name of individuals and private organisations in revenue records.
In pursuance of this letter, Yogi government directed all district magistrates to conduct the survey of waqf properties. UP deputy chief minister K P Maurya said, the state government will try to remove illegal occupation of waqf properties, and these would be used for the welfare of poor Muslims.
The issue of waqf properties should be seen in the correct perspective, instead of looking at it from political angles. Politicians may say that the survey will only reveal how much government land had been occupied by waqf boards, but this is a half-truth. The survey will reveal how much waqf properties have been illegally occupied.
The survey will also reveal the names and faces of those who have grabbed waqf properties through illegal means, by purchasing them at throwaway prices. This will ultimately benefit the Waqf Boards and poor Muslims. More land will be available as burial grounds, for building schools and colleges for Muslim students, and the earnings of Waqf Boards will rise.
The survey will help in reoccupying waqf land grabbed by vested interests. Naturally, some leaders and their acolytes are worried about this survey. This survey in UP is a follow-up of the Centre’s direction for conducting a survey of all waqf properties in India. According to one estimate, there is nearly 18 lakh acres land lying as waqf property, but there are no authentic data to substantiate this. A nationwide survey of all waqf properties is the need of the hour.
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