Soon, it will be a year since the Karnataka Wakf Board Land Scam was exposed by the state minorities commission. As the controversial report gathers dust, encroachment of Wakf properties remains unabated. The Wakf Board, meant to look after the welfare of Muslims, has a heap of allegations piled against it. Y Maheshwara Reddy reports.
On the night of July 20, 2004, 46-year-old MJ Ali was returning home from a function on his two-wheeler. It was quite late — at 1 in the night, when he was accosted by four men at JC Nagar. They beat him up with sticks, leaving his face alone with 18 fractures. The assault had been brutal. After all, it was meant to teach the man a lesson.
The man in question was a whistle-blower, one who had been incessantly and assiduously trying to blow the lid off a number of scams afflicting hundreds of Wakf properties in Karnataka. The 2004 attack ravaged his face — the visage still bears a cruel testimony to the ruthless attack — yet, he remained undaunted, unfazed.
Then, in March 2008, they struck again. This time, the miscreants attacked Ali near CSI Hospital late in the evening, and damaged his spine in the process. More than four years later after the near-fatal attack, Ali walks upright, and still has enough reasons to stick to his crusade — that of exposing Wakf-related misdeeds of one and all.
But Ali with his watchdog front, Karnataka Wakf Protection Joint Action Committee, has always had a monumental task laid out. According to the 2008 report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Wakf, there are around 30,000 Wakf institutions in the state spread over 19,000 acres. For the greedy and opportunistic, that means a lot of land (to be grabbed), and a lot of money to be made.
Wakf properties, arguably, are the most vulnerable to encroachment in the state. There are many reasons for this — the gross lethargy of the Karnataka State Board of Wakfs to discharge its primary duty being the most compelling.
One needs only a little bit political clout and the propensity to collude with corrupt employees at sub-registrar offices to get a Wakf property registered in his/her name. Instances are legion. Many politicians from the Muslim community, irrespective of their political colour, have encroached upon Wakf properties without any shame or fear. Crafty politicians have used the rampant illiteracy and poverty of the community to the hilt to usurp Wakf property worth crores of rupees, across the state.
“The majority of Muslims have no proper education, and live in abject poverty. For them, survival itself is a daily ritual. It is difficult for them to focus on Wakf property, or show an inclination to know either the encroachers or to evict them,’’ points out Ali.
Those who grab Wakf property are driven by greed, and backed by political clout. Ali cites the sales of the Musaffir Khana at a prime location in Yelahanka, and that of more than 10 acres of land at Vedrapura village in Yelahanka hobli to make his point.
“They have no fear of the Almighty. They bought the land and property meant for charitable purpose. I had demanded that the Wakf Board should take measures to recover land worth crores that have been sold by children and relatives of mutawallis (caretakers). It is like a fence eating the crop. The mutawallis, ironically, are supposed to manage Wakf property, and not sell them for monetary consideration,’’ asserts Ali.
He blames the lack of commitment on part of Wakf Board officials officials for the dismal state of affairs. And the associated ignorance, blissful ignorance, in fact. All this was put in perspective in November 2012 when the high court dismissed an appeal filed by the Wakf Board challenging a notification issued by the state government in 1960, extending the Inam Abolition Act to 600 acres of land in Bellahalli village. It contended that the land was its property, and it could not be be declared by the state government as Inam land.
The single judge dismissed the petition. Thereafter, the board filed an appeal before the division bench. The latter too dismissed the appeal because it had been filed after more than 50 years. “Lack of awareness about laws and commitment to protect Wakf property among the board staff is a cause for concern. On many occasions, they do not even bother to file a writ petition in the court,’’ rues Ali.
When ignorance is bliss, one can flout laws with impunity.
Take, for instance, the case of educational institutions which have been established by the rich and famous from the Muslim community. Many of them were doled out land belonging to the Wakf Board on a lease basis. Says Ali, “The Al-Ameen Educational Society pays a paltry Rs208 per month for six acres and nine guntas of land belonging to the Wakf Board. They were leased the land for 99 years even though Wakf Board rules state that no property can be leased out for more than three years. Moreover, the Al-Ameen Educational Society has to reserve 25% of the seats for students belonging to the poorest of poor families among Muslims. Yet, nothing has been done.’’
Such cases abound, and with scant regard for the law or adverse publicity. A state government-funded minority education institution at Bharatinagar allegedly converted a huge building meant for a school into a marriage hall. The rooms that were supposed to serve as classrooms were rented out to migrant workers for Rs2,500-,500 per month, besides a security deposit of Rs5,000 each. As flagrantly as that.
Karnataka State Minorities Commission chairman Ateeq Ahmed discovered this during a surprise visit to the Taha Education Trust on Armstrong Road in Bharatinagar. The minister was following up on a petition alleging that the trust and several other commercial building adjoining it were constructed on 1,80,000 sq m Wakf land.
The commission suspected this could not have been done without the collusion of some powerful members of the Wakf Board. The Taha Education Trust is meant to provide free coaching classes to poor Muslims so as to prepare them for high school to competitive examinations. It receives funds from the minority department to support this initiative.
Ahmed and other commission members found that apart from classrooms being rented out, the institute’s library had been converted into a storeroom. Several gunny bags full of envelopes containing scholarship applications from poor Muslim students lay around.
Former state minister for haj, wakf and minority welfare Mumtaz Ali Khan, in a way agrees that Wakf property is meant for charitable purposes. “The land donated to the Wakf Board by philanthropists remain Wakf property. The state government has no right to interfere. However, hundreds of acres belonging to the board have been either been acquired or encroached upon across the state. The state government has sent a circular directing those who have encroached the land or property of the Wakf Board to restore with those immediately. The order fell on deaf ears. Lack of political will and commitment is the main reason for the failure in recovering Wakf property,’’ says Khan.
Will is one thing, and personnel quite another. What else can one expect when even the post of estate officer for Bangalore has been lying vacant for years. The number of vacancies at the Karnataka State Board of Wakfs is a cause for worry. According to Ibrahim Addur, the board’s chief executive officer, there are only 80 employees as against the required strength of 200. Since no recruitment can be done without amending the Wakf Act 1995, a proposal was sent to the government in 2009 urging it to amend the Act. Needless to say, the government is yet to respond.
To make matters worse, the few employees around lack communication skills and evince resistance in learning Kannada. “They do not know either English or Kannada. Their communication skills are poor. They sent notices to people in rural areas in their broken English. I have advised them to learn Kannada, but they are not interested. Wakf property worth of Rs50,000 crore in and around Bangalore is managed by a first division clerk. We want to fill up 120 vacancies, but I think even 200 employees are not sufficient to manage Wakf property,’’ Addur says.
Allegations, meanwhile, continue to pile up.
The Karnataka Wakf Board Land Scam was the alleged misappropriation of Rs200,000 crore (US$36.4 billion) in property funds, made public by a report submitted by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission in 2012.
In March 2012, Anwar Manippady, the chairman of the commission, submitted a report to chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda, alleging that 27,000 acres of land owned by the Karnataka State Wakf Board had either been misappropriated or allocated illegally. The value of the land was estimated at Rs2 lakh crore. The report alleged that the Karnataka State Wakf Board had allowed almost 50% of its land to be misappropriated by politicians and board members, in collusion with the real estate mafia for a fraction of their market value.
The Karnataka State Wakf Board is a Muslim charitable trust that manages and oversees property that has typically been donated for the use of the poor. The board is a statutory body constituted under the Wakf Act 1995. In all, 27,548 Wakfs are registered with the board. These include primarily mosques. The rest are dargahs, idgahs, kabrastans (burial grounds), ashoorkhanas, orphanages, etc.
The board is made up of nominated and elected members from various categories and the chairman is elected by the members. The staff is headed by the chief executive officer, who is a KAS Officer in the senior scale. There are district wakf advisory committee offices in all districts of the state.