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Tuesday, June 22, 2010 02:21:17 PM, Aleem Faizee, ummid.com
Thousands of acres of lands spread all across the country and hundreds of buildings and structures having historical significance together make what the world knows as Muslim Awqaf
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Malegaon: Minister of Awkaf Salman Khurshid is leaving no opportunity lost to claim that the Waqf Amendment Bill 2010 is historic and pivotal for the safety of the Waqf lands. The community leaders however are not convinced and are trying hard to build a strong campaign against the bill.
“Our opposition to certain sections in the Waqf Amendment Bill 2010 is known even to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. In fact the Prime Minister on May 06 – a day before the last day of the parliamentary session when the bill was passed – had assured to MP Mohd Adeeb that the bill would not be presented in the Parliament in its present form. Yet, Salman Khurshid showing unnecessary haste pushed the bill with sections that could have serious consequences”, said Ab Raheem Quraishi – one of the secretaries of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).
Ab Raheem Quraishi was speaking to ummid.com on phone after the meeting with senior advocates held in Hyderabad to discuss the matter on June 20. The deliberations of this meeting would be shared with the high level legal cell of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on June 24 in Mumbai.
Interestingly, speaking to ummid.com a fortnight ago on the same issue, Minister of Awkaf Salman Khurshid allayed the concerns raised by the Muslim leaders, claiming the bill is actually beneficial for the safety and security of the Waqf lands.
‘What is Waqf’
Waqf Amendment Bill Highlights
Steps to be taken for reducing the scope of alienation of waqf properties by prohibiting the sale and gift of waqf properties.
Stringent penal provisions to prevent encroachments and to streamline the process of removal of encroachments.
For increasing the maximum permissible period of lease or sub-lease of waqf properties from three years, as at present, to thirty years so that the waqf properties are developed in such a way as to derive maximum benefits and to apply the income to the aims for which the wakf was created in the first place.
Specific time frame for completion of survey of auqaf and to ensure that the list of auqaf based on the survey data is appropriately reflected while updating the land records by the revenue authorities.
For change in the composition of the Central Waqf Council and State Waqf Boards so as to provide for representation of women
Professionals and experts in the Council or Boards, providing statutory power of monitoring to the Central Waqf Council and to authorize it to issue directives and advice in specific cases to State Waqf Boards.
For constituting Tribunals, for the determination of all disputes, questions and other matters relating to waqf or waqf properties, as a three -member body consisting of a person not below the rank of District, Session or Civil Judge Class I as the Chairman and two other members, namely, an officer from the State Civil Service equivalent in rank to that of Additional District Magistrate and another person having knowledge of Muslim law and jurisprudence.
Thousands of acres of lands spread all across the country, and hundreds of buildings and structures having historical significance together make what the world knows as Muslim Awqaf. The institution of Waqf in India is 800 years old. It began when Muslim rulers donated huge lands for charity. The approximate number of registered Waqf properties in India is 3,00,000 and account for 4 lakh acres of land. According to the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Rahman Khan, this makes the board the third-largest landholder after the railways and defence.
The significance that the Muslim Awqaf has for the Muslims in India can be gauged from the observations made by Rahman Khan as the Chairman of the Join Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Waqf. He had opined in his report that the government would not need any additional fund, if only the Waqf properties are used effectively for the welfare of the Muslims in India. This, he claims, even if the govt. utilizes just 30% of the total.
However, most of the Waqf lands at prime locations are either 'encroached over' or are sold off at through away prices. There are even people who publicly claim that many buildings located on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi including Nanak Hall, Maulana Azad Medical College, Panth Hospital, Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Link House, the offices of National Herald, Gandhi Peace Foundation and Indian Express, and also part of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Supreme Court building, Indian Parliament and ITO are all constructed on Waqf lands. To ensure the safety of the remaining, except claims and promises, nothing concrete has come from the government so far.
‘Waqf Amendment Bill 2010’
The baby of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Waqf Amendment Bill is part of the government’s initiatives introduced following the recommendations of the Sachar Committee and an attempt to protect the Waqf lands from misuse. Prior to the introduction of the bill, the government in its first term, had constituted a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) headed by Rajya Sabha Dy Chairman Rahman Khan.
Later, the bill which the government claims is a legislation to strengthen and improve the management and administration of the Waqf in India was introduced in the Lok Sabha on April, 27 and finally passed on May, 07 – the last day of the recently concluded parliamentary session. The bill now needs approval from the Rajya Sabha - the upper house of the Indian Parliament before it becomes a law. Incidentally, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) does not have enough numbers in the Rajya Sabha needed to pass a legislation.
‘Concerns of the Ulema’
Important recommendations by AIMPLB
Status of the Waqf lands after the Independence: The AIMPLB recommended that the government should consider all the lands under the possession of the community on August 15, 1947 – the day India became Independent - as the sole property of the Waqf.
Inclusion of local representatives in the Waqf Boards: Earlier, there was a practice to include 2 representatives from local organizations in state Waqf boards. AIMPLB had demanded to bring transparency in the nominations. The Ministry abolished the very idea of including local representatives in the boards.
Removal of conditions on the lands donated to the Waqf by non-Muslim rulers: The AIMPLB had recommended to remove such conditions as there always are the examples when rulers – Muslim or non-Muslim – donated lands to their subjects irrespective of their religion.
Upgrading entries in revenue departments: The AIMPLB had recommended to upgrade entries in the Revenue Department so that the Waqf lands that are ‘encroached’ by the governments in various states in the name of road-widening and other such tasks are stopped.
The clerics are expressing serious concerns over the bill ever since it is passed in the Lok Sabha. They are of the view that since the government itself has misused and encroached over the Waqf lands in a very large scale, it is not serious in their protection.
“At the time when the bill was taking shape, recommendations were sent both by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and the All India Muslim Personal Board (AIMPLB) to the concerned Ministry. However, the Ministry ignored the important recommendations and added such clauses that would ultimately prove harmful for the Waqf”, said Ab Raheem Quraishi.
The Muslim leaders are specially concerned about the clause 87 of the bill that according to them would finally result in "confiscation of the Muslim Awqaf".
"The clause 87 of the bill makes registration of the land mandatory, and says, in case of dispute the unregistered lands would not have any legal standing. The bill is totally silent on the status of thousands of acres of lands across the country that are not registered but are certainly property of the Waqf”, said Quraishi.
"Moreover", he added, "The All India Muslim Personal Board (AIMPLB) had recommended to upgrade entries in revenue departments so that the Waqf lands that are ‘encroached’ over in various states in the name of road-widening and other such tasks, are stopped. Even this important recommendation could not find a place in the amendment bill".
Union Minister of Awqaf Salman Khurshid, however, is completely unruffled. He brushes off the very idea that the bill would ultimately result in confiscation of the Muslim Awqaf. Instead, he believes, the bill would strengthen the Awqaf and would play a pivotal role in protecting them from misuse.
“There are some “miscreant elements” trying to create confusion about the Waqf Amendment Bill – a historic step taken by the Congress-led UPA government for the safety and protection of the Waqf lands, and in order to eradicate their misuse”, Salman Khurshid said while speaking to ummid.com on phone.
“We are taking unprecedented efforts not only to end misuse of the Waqf lands but also to ensure that they are used for the benefits of the Muslim community. The bill is an important step towards achieving this goal”, he added.
Salman Khurshid was replying to the concerns raised by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the reports that said the government “through a bureaucratic move is trying to pass a legislation de-recognizing all Awqaf unless they are registered with the authorities”.
“All that we are trying to do with this bill is, to encourage registration of Waqf lands. When they are registered with the authorities, in case of dispute, it would be easier for the courts to take a decision”, he said.
On the possible impact of the bill on Babri Masjid case, the Minister said, “The fact is that as against the propaganda by few communal leaders, Babri Masjid and the lands in questions are registered with the waqf board. Hence to say that the legislation would any way affect the case of Babri Masjid is far from realisation.”
He also ridiculed the reports that Congress had taken advantage of the thin attendance on Friday - when Muslim members of Parliament are normally absent for the Friday prayers - and in their absence rushed the bill through the Lok Sabha.
“It is true that we rushed the legislation through the Lok Sabha. However, to say that it was deliberately presented on Friday when Muslim MPs were absent is totally baseless. It was the last day of the session, and since we strongly believed that the bill is beneficial, we wanted it to be passed without further delay”, he said.
“Moreover”, he added, “Quite a few number of Muslim MPs including Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi were present when the debate on the bill was on in the house. Moreover, Maulana Asrarul Haque Qasmi took part in the debate before the passage of the bill”, he said.
'War of words continues'
The clerics, however, are not ready to buy Salman Khurshid's assurances. They even allege that he is being used by a section in the government to push anti-community legislations in the Parliament while the proposals - unanimously believed to be beneficial for the minorities - are gathering dust in the power corridors.
On the contrary, sources close to Salman Khurshid claim that some people in the Capital are trying to dislodge him from the Ministry hence they are creating "unnecessary confusions" and raising doubts over "all the good things" the government is doing on his behest. Their apprehensions gain credence as buzz is taking rounds in New Delhi that lobbying is being done to replace Salman Khurshid with Rahman Khan - the Chairman of Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Waqf and the man regarded by his 'promoters' as a champion of poor Muslims and an expert at handling Waqf issues.
Meanwhile, amid the war of words between the community leaders and by the time they bring consensus on the bill - in the words of Saba Naqvi of Outlook - the Waqf lands that should have been used for the welfare of the Indian Muslims continue to be mortgaged, sold and encroached upon with the connivance of the very institutions and individuals responsible for safeguarding it.
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