Talk about Shia Board brings J&K Waqf Board into focus
Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Board – formerly the Muslim Auqaf Trust – is a decades-old institution, responsible for the management of the Muslim Shrines, Mosques, Islamic Darasgahs, and their affiliated properties and assets.
Unfortunately, a notion of massive corruption, financial irregularities, mismanagement, and such other things has remained affixed with this largest socio-religious institution of Jammu and Kashmir since a long time. The institution and many people, who have been at the helm of affairs in different times, have also been accused of promoting nepotism, favoritism in this religious body. Regional political parties and several politicians have been blamed for using Waqf for their political gains, when they were in power.
The Waqf Board was recently in news again, when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Dr. Darakhshan Andrabi, who is also the chairperson of the Central Waqf Development Committee, said that corruption was at its peak in the Board. Andrabi also asked the central government to create a separate Waqf Board for the Shia community of Jammu and Kashmir. She claimed that the community representatives through many memorandums and applications have been pleading for a Shia Waqf Board in Jammu and Kashmir.
To try to get a comprehensive view on these issues, Kashmir Images spoke to several people who are directly or indirectly concerned with it.
Here are the excerpts:
Jammu Kashmir Waqf Board is a mismanaged body since its inception. It has remained under the influence of dynastic politics and the management of the body is not governed by any defined regulations. The Board has been managed according to the whims of these dynasties. All the appointments made in Waqf have been done without making any public advertisements and without following defined appointment procedures, and mostly on the basis of political favouritism.
The loans from Waqf have not been given to the poor and deserving people, but to the rich and influential, politically-connected business families, and politicians. For 70 years, people have donated hundreds of crores of rupees in our shines. With this money, we have not been able to even renovate our shrines or create any infrastructure needed there; all of which have been built with funds provided by other departments.
I was recently here to inspect the working system, account management, management of assets of Waqf, and the facilities created at shrines. I toured major shrines throughout the UT, inspected Waqf Board Headquarters, and later briefed the media about what I saw at ground-zero. I have also submitted a report to my Ministry in Delhi and submitted a Memorandum to Lieutenant Governor (LG) about the re-structuring of the Waqf Board in J&K. LG has assured me that re-structuring of the Waqf Board will be done soon.
Shia shrines and their properties are not part of the J&K Muslim Waqf Board. This division has been created right from the inception of the Board. Shia community representatives through many memoranda and applications have been pleading for a Shia Waqf Board in J&K. It is an old demand. However, we were living in a state where the public voice was never heard. J&K was run by dynasties like a private company. Now people believe that those in the chair can listen to their voices, so all such demands have started being raised with force. I have only supported their 70-year-long demand after extensive deliberations with their leaders and religious scholars.
As far as Shia Waqf is concerned, a separate Shia Waqf Board can be established under section 13(2) of the Central Waqf Act. But it can only be established when it is found that the Shia Waqfs (Auqafs) constitute in number more than 15 percent of all the Waqf properties in Jammu and Kashmir, or if the income of the properties of the Shia Waqfs constitute more than 15 percent of the total income of all Waqf properties in J&K. Thus, first of all, there is a need to survey the issue. I am not sure whether any such survey has been conducted so far….
When Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Act was enacted in the year 1978, Aga Syed Yousuf Al Mosvi, (Budgam) made a demand to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah for an exemption of Shia Waqfs on the ground that such Waqfs are regulated by Shia Fiqh. Such an exemption was granted at that time. However, since the Central Waqf Act is now applicable here and the previous Act (J&K Waqf Act) is no longer applicable, the issue will be now governed by the Central Act. With Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, the State Waqf Act got repealed with the Central Waqf Act. There are already rules framed under the Central Act, which also will apply to all Waqfs. Central Act applies to the Shia Waqfs too as there is no exception to such Waqfs, as it was under the State Act. Since the Central Waqf Act has become applicable here, a general Board will be established for both Shia and Sunni Waqfs. But if it is found that there are more than 15% Shia Waqfs, a separate board for such property has to be constituted.
If there is corruption in Waqf, the government must take initiatives to curb it. Those who are involved in corruption should be dealt with law. Nobody should have any objection if the government takes steps to stop corruption and punish the guilty.
As far as creating a separate Waqf Board for the Shia community is concerned, I do not know what plans the government has about it. If they have decided to establish a Shia Waqf Board, what can we say or do about it?
However, let me at least tell them that any such board will not have any religious authenticity. According to the religious perspective, no government or the state can be involved in this matter.
We have a concept of ‘Maal Imam’. We believe the twelve Imams, who are the spiritual and political descendants of the Prophet (SAW) and perfect interpreters of ‘Sharia’. The twelfth Imam is in ‘Ghaibat’ (hidden). We have some learned people whom we regard as ‘Mara’ja’ (scholars of Islamic jurisprudence). These Mara’jas have appointed their assistants at different places. Only they are supposed to look into important issues including Waqf-related matters. We always need to ask the Mara’jas where and how to use these donations. Donations are being spent on building Masjids, Imambargahs, schools and it is also being spent to help the poor. But this is being done under the guidance of Mara’jas, who are well aware of the rules and regulations.
However, if the government, without understanding the Islamic jurisprudence and the rules and regulations related to Shia Waqf wants to establish a Shia Waqf Board here, let them do it. I will only say that no government can head the Waqf Board. It will be un-Islamic. I think those who support such an act are actually trying to score brownie points. Unfortunately, some of our so-called intellectuals, after their retirement, love to indulge in the matters of mosques, shrines, and other religious institutions. On the advice of such people, sometimes governments take decisions contrary to the religious rules. I think the idea of setting up a Shia Waqf Board under the government is actually from some of these so-called intellectuals. Let me make it clear that according to Sharia, Waqfs can only run by the Mara’jas, whom we follow.
Finally, let me respond to those who frequently give examples of Vaishno Devi temple and its trust to say how the huge assets can be built for the public benefit out of the donations. We must understand a large number of devotees including some overly rich people visit this Hindu Holy shrine every year and donate crores of rupees to the temple. While in Kashmir, both the Shia and Sunni Waqfs depend on the donation from the local people. There cannot be a comparison between the two.
Waqf Board may have its issues that need to be sorted out. If there is corruption or mismanagement in the board, there should be a judicial probe on it.
I believe that Waqf Board has not lived up to the expectations of the people. I think there is some mismanagement in this body. But to establish corruption needs a judicial probe. Mere allegations are not enough for it.
As far as the talk about the Shia Waqf Board is concerned, I will not speak about the person (Darakhshan Andrabi) who has demanded it. I don’t know if she is intellectually capable of understanding this matter or not. Shia Waqf Board like the Sunni Waqf Board is guided and governed by the jurisprudential law. In the case of Shia Waqf, it (jurisprudential law) is stricter than the Sunni Waqf. It cannot be governed by the governments and their whims and wills. It has jurisprudential guides and laws attached to it and it can only be governed by that. Anything beyond that will be trespassing into it.
Secondly, Shia Waqf is not unorganized; it is organized. However, there are allegations about its misgivings and unaccountability. That needs to be looked into. For Muslims, I would suggest, to look into their religious issues. It is for the Muslim community to find ways to audit the assets and find the alleged misgivings, which are being talked about. But that has to be done by the Muslim believers themselves. No government can order about this. Neither trespassing into Waqf affairs can be done by the government.
Allegations of corruption and unaccountability are one thing and the Waqf being governed by the government through an Act of Parliament, is another thing. These are two separate issues. As far as corruption allegations are concerned, they need to be investigated. But trespassing into the Waqf affairs is not permissible as per Islamic jurisprudence. Waqf has to be governed by Islamic jurisprudence. Personally, I am not affiliated with any Waqf. But I can say that resources and the output of the Waqf do not match and accountability has to be brought forward. An audit is to be carried out by Islamic law and through the means of the prudence on a priority basis. Waqf should be accountable and we need to find people who may help to make it accountable.
In today’s time and these circumstances, our advice does not matter anymore. It is BJP, which is completely running in full flow in Jammu and Kashmir. They will not listen to anything which comes in the way of their agenda. I don’t think our advice would be counted. We saw one fine morning (August 05, last year) they (BJP government) came out with an unconstitutional order and snatched our statehood and the rights. We couldn’t do anything about it. If they impose a Shia Waqf Board on us, what can we do about it? However, I would only advise the people that if they (government) would do it by force, let them do it, but don’t be a party to such a conspiracy. It would be an unlawful act.
There was always an impression that Auqaf trust (now the Waqf Board) is mismanaged. There were also allegations of financial misconduct about this religious body. There used to be a talk of the town that some influential people have taken huge amounts in the name of ‘Qarz-e-hasanah’ (interest-free loan) from the Waqf and they never returned it. It also came to fore that some elite families had succeeded in appropriating Waqf properties at prime locations. In late ’70s, during Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s government, Munshi Ahmad Ali, an intelligent and honest person who happened to be my father-in-law, was assigned the job of conducting a survey across Jammu and Kashmir to find if the corruption allegations were true. In his survey, Munshi Ahmad Ali found large-scale corruption and mismanagement in/of the Waqf properties. For example, he identified 33,000 kanals of land (Waqf property) only in Jammu region grabbed by people, particularly by the influential people.
He brought the entire situation on record and submitted his report to the government. But nothing was done about it. Things have only gone worse since then. So I totally believe that large-scale mismanagement and corruption is there in the Waqf Board.
As far as the demand for establishing a separate Shia Waqf Board is concerned, this is a long-pending demand here. Because Shia Waqf property is under the control of a few families and there has never been any accountability about this. Common people of the Shia community do not know how much property belonging to Waqf is there in Jammu and Kashmir. Nobody knows where the income from the assets and public donations go. That is the reason the sane people have been demanding that a body supervised by the government be formed to look after the issue related to Shia Waqf. Look at the Vaishno Devi trust. It belongs to a small Hindu Temple. However, under honest supervision, they have succeeded to build assets like university and a medical college. Unfortunately, the Muslim Waqf, whether belonging to the Shia or the Sunni sects, has failed to build even a few good schools here.
Therefore, the demand for establishing a separate Shia Waqf Board under the supervision of the government is genuine. Earlier people were ignorant. They would not talk about it, but now they understand the matters. That is why the people have started demanding Waqf properties be organized and streamlined. However, the families who control these Waqf properties do not want the supervision of the government. Let me give you an example: There was a plan to build a hospital in the name of Imam Khomeini on more than 100 kanals of Waqf land. However, the concerned people made such a mess about this project that several cases were filed in the courts. Finally, the government deregistered the hospital. This is what happens when things are not placed in an organized manner. An organized Waqf will be beneficial for the people in general.
I was Vice-Chairman Waqf Board about four years ago. I know nothing about the present situation in the Board. However, I can tell you with authenticity that there was not an iota of corruption in the Board during my tenure.
Generalizing and accusing everyone in the institution is not a good thing to do. If there are some specific corruption charges against some individuals, that should be looked into. However, we should not demonize the whole institution. It is neither good for the people nor for the institution.
Having said all that, let me share my experience with you: As a Vice-Chairman Waqf Board, I did notice that many people have taken huge properties at prime locations on a nominal rent at different points of time during past few decades. But there has never been a rent increase since then. You can find shops belonging to Waqf at places like Amira Kadal which were given on rent for just two or three hundred rupees a month. The tenants are still paying the same rent. In my opinion, if someone owned a shop at a place like Amira Kadal, he or she will not rent it out on less than Rs, 20000 a month. But the Waqf gets meagre amount as rent from its tenants.
As a Vice-Chairman Waqf Board, I tried my level best to change all this. I even risked my life trying to update and renew the rent of Waqf properties. However, I failed because nobody supported me — neither from within nor from the outside. Even the government did not help me to change the system. We cannot blame the poor employees of the Waqf and accuse them of corruption without understanding the real problems about this institution.
In 2011, the government constituted a three-member committee to conduct a Special Audit and to look into the alleged financial and administrative mess at the Wakf Board. I was a member of the committee. I had just retired as Special Secretary, Culture and Tourism. The two other members were Muhammad Shaban Najar, former Chief Engineer Railways, and Sheikh Abdur Rashid, a retired Financial Advisor. We had been allotted a three-month period to submit our report along with the recommendations. I think I was chosen for the job because I had served as a special officer Auqaf for some time during my service.
In our survey, we found large-scale mismanagement in the Waqf Board; though, I will not call it corruption. Secondly, I believe that only management is not responsible for all this mess at the Waqf Board. The fact is that people are holding the properties of the Waqf but pay even nominal rents. Even those who have got properties at prime locations do not pay their dues to Waqf. Many tenants have sublet or sold out the Waqf properties without informing the Board. These people are responsible for making this institution a failure.
As far as the management of the Board is concerned, astonishingly, it has failed to update the agreements and increase rents during all these years. They have also failed on the recovery front. Some of the given away properties, which were initially registered in the Waqf records, have not been updated. There is no mention of these properties in the present record of the Waqf. I can’t say whether it has been done intentionally or unintentionally, but it is a clear sign of mismanagement.
During our survey, we were astonished to know that there are huge properties under the occupation of government departments. Some of them too have not paid rents for long. We found a letter from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the records, ordering all government departments in all states of the country to hand over the Waqf properties to the concerned Waqf authorities. Even this order by a prime minister has not been followed here.
In our audit, we also found that the revenue to the Waqf drains out for paying the salary bill of the employees. Despite having huge properties across Jammu and Kashmir, Waqf has failed to take income generation initiatives during all these decades.
We prepared an 80-page report with some recommendations and submitted it to the government. In our recommendations, we also suggested a larger committee consisting of some officials of the Revenue department and some engineers (who can evaluate all the Waqf properties and other assets) should be formed and given more time to survey and investigate, to get a better understanding of the issues. We met the then Chief Minister and handed over a copy of the report to him personally. Since then, I do not know what happened to that report.