The Maharashtra government is once again set to begin the process of identifying a new CEO of the Wakf Board after incumbent A R Qureshi was elevated as a district judge. However, with few Muslim officers in the state administration, the hunt will be a tedious task. Under prevalent rules, the CEO of the Wakf Board that manages properties worth thousands of crores, has to be a Muslim and should be at least of the rank of Deputy Secretary or Additional Collector.
Presently, there are fewer than a dozen such Muslim officers of the required rank in the state bureaucracy. Faced with a shortage of bureaucrats, the state government had from 2013 started appointing sitting judges to the post. The incumbent Wakf Board CEO A R Qureshi, a civil judge, was the second judge to have been appointed to head the Board.
Qureshi had taken over as CEO in January 2017. Last week, however, he was elevated to the post of district judge and will have to be relieved from his present position. “We have received communication regarding his elevation. Technically we will have to relieve him. However, as of now, he is still holding charge till we find a replacement,” said Shyam Tagade, Principal Secretary, Minority Development department .
Qureshi had taken over during a particularly tumultuous time for the Wakf Board, which, this year, saw the suspension from the Maharashtra government of its previous CEO Naseem Bano. The previous CEO was suspended from service by the present BJP government after she allegedly denied a Nashik-based Dargah’s claim over Waqf land. “It is a vital post as it controls land worth crores of rupees which are endowments meant for the betterment of the community. We are hoping that we will find an effective replacement soon,” Tagade said.
While there is a shortage of officers to serve in the position, there have also been instances of CEOs being found embroiled in allegations of corruption. Two previous CEOs of the Board had to be transferred after allegations of corruption cropped up against them in the last five years. The government was then forced to hire retired officials to head the post.
However, the last such officer to be hired was also caught allegedly accepting a bribe instalment of Rs 30,000 from a man who wanted the lease of a land allotted to him by the board to be extended from one to three years. The term Wakf represents property bequeathed by individuals to be used for the benefit of the Muslim community. There is supposed to be four lakh acres of Wakf property in the country with Maharashtra having close to 38,000 hectares of Wakf land. This entire land is managed by respective state boards which are in turn monitored by Central Wakf Council. There have been rising complaints that the management of Wakf land is plagued by corruption.