A Giant Leap towards Waqf Protection
The Waqf protection and development are likely to receive a big fillip with the passage of Waqf Properties (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Bill 2013 and incorporation of the National Waqf Development Corporation (NAWADCO). The Bill is before the Parliament and is likely to be passed before the current Lok Sabha winds up its tenure. The twin measures go a long way in ensuring that the vast assets under awqaf across the country will receive not only better protection but also see measures to make them worthy of generating revenue for the community.
The Waqf Properties Bill will be a landmark accomplishment of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government if it becomes an Act after due passage from the two houses of the Parliament and assent from the President. The Bill shifts the illegal occupation of the waqf properties from civil to criminal domain and empowers the police to arrest the encroachers and illegal occupants and vests the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the Waqf Boards with magisterial powers to physically evict the illegal occupants, sealing of properties raised illegally over the waqf properties and even extract damages, if any, during such illegal occupations. Such structures can even be demolished and the debris could even be auctioned. Expenses incurred in any such action can even be extracted from the offenders. Illegal occupants can even be made to cough up the rents for the tenure of illegal occupation of the waqf properties. The CEOs are empowered to summon the offenders and ask any person to furnish any evidence or documents. Any appeal against the Waqf Board CEOs will be entertained only by the Waqf Tribunals and no case against the CEO’s or Tribunal’s decision can be filed with the civil courts or magistrates. Cases against offenders can be launched in the courts and the offenders can be sentenced with a jail term extending up to six months or fined or both.
The Bill marks a distinct progress towards protection of waqf properties whose estimated worth is of the order of $345 billion at the current real estate value. The Sachar Committee Report had put the number of waqf assets at 490,000 across the country. But illegal occupations, encroachments and litigations—there were around one lakh such cases in the courts—had rendered them more a liability than asset for the State Waqf Boards. Rather than generating any income of their own, most Waqf Boards were dependent on budgetary allocations from the State finances.
The setting up of National Waqf Development Corporation (NAWADCO) signals yet another headway in that a new public sector entity has been created to develop the waqf properties. It was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and will have an authorized share capital of Rs. 500 crore. Presently, the 490,000 properties fetch merely Rs. 163 crore. Notably, the Sachar Committee had estimated that with proper development, these could be made to yield Rs. 12,000 crore annually.
The twin developments point to a solid progress towards securing the interests of the Muslim minority. With economic misery being the greatest impediment in effective induction into national mainstream, the measures are likely to go a long way in infusing dynamism into a vital sector of development of the Muslim community.