The recently concluded conclave on Waqfs in India has called for intensified efforts and participation of general Muslims in protection of the Waqf properties scattered all over the countries. Waqf is generally presumed to be the third largest category of land following the lands owned by the Government and the Indian Railways. However, one would be mistaken if Waqf is seen as a single entity. It is not. Primarily, the lands dedicated to God and for pious purposes lies under various religious institutions such as mosques, Khanqah (hospices) of the great sages, Ashurkhanas, Dargahs, graveyards, madrassas and Eidgahs. These are institutions that serve varied purposes and are governed and managed by a diversity of collectives.
Secondly, it will be fallacious to think that all of the land is available for development. Mosques, Graveyards, Eidgahs, Madrassas, Orphanages and Ashurkhanas are primarily meant to serve religious duties and cannot but retain roles for which they were created. However, the lands attached to them and are now lying in prime commercial areas could be put to use. As pointed out by Prof. Khalid Rashid, a well-known waqf expert, only about 25,000 such properties could be developed for generation of revenue. But even these make an impressive number. These could happen only if they are available without hassles and flunkeys of politicians are dissuaded from eyeing them.
Though the newly amended Central Waqf Act (2013) has several provisions for eviction and restoration of Waqf properties, the will to make them available for commercial development and use of the proceeds for socially productive schemes is deficient at best, and absent at worst. It is only in the South Indian States where commercial development of Waqf properties happened, during the last 40 years where Central Wakf Council (CWC) started funding such viable projects. A lone exception is Takia Chandshah Complex in Jodhpur which has led to the establishment of a university, Maulana Azad University. In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, there are simply too many hassles in evicting the illegal occupants and freeing the land from encroachers and little administrative support in carrying out the rulings by Tribunals and Courts. Politicians are wary of surveying the properties and digitizing the land records which they fear would bring in transparency and scuttle their efforts at using them for promotion of their personal interests. Law or no law, the outlaws continue to thrive and undermine the public interest without any compunction.
It has also become imperative to reexamine several provisions like waqif ki manshaa (intention and objectives outlined by the dedicatee of Waqf properties). Academicians and legal experts need to see if objectives could be reinterpreted. The waqif (one who dedicated the assets for pious purposes) lived in a different age. If he intended that incomes from these assets to be utilized for digging of wells or lighting lamps (shama farozi) at the mausoleums, these objectives have definitely outlived their utility. We need to see if these could be interpreted as augmentation of water supply (which has to be essentially through modern means) and if the premises could be electrified. Similarly, promotion of education and literacy may also mean introducing modern sciences in the curriculum of the madrassas and boosting financial literacy, and to boot, without any gender bias.
It would be in order for the NGO proposed to be formed in pursuance of the Bengaluru Declaration to promote awareness through Friday sermons to persuade the community to see that illegal occupations are removed, title and records are streamlined and people with decent antecedents are put in charge of the affairs of the individual Waqf institutions. The community would do well even by keeping aside unreasonable demands to reclaim ownership of grand monuments such as Taj Mahal and Lal Qila for the Waqf Boards. Some politicians do this as a diversionary tactics from substantive issues. The beginning should be made at the grassroots level by making the smaller Waqf institution truly independent and sustainable projects rather than playing to the gallery.