March 11, 2017 5:47:07 am
Shaikh Mulla Wali’s Dargah is a modest subterranean structure — where the faithful have to crawl to pay their respects. Its narrow interiors may not be able to accommodate over half-a-dozen people, but its dank and musty premises, according to its trustees, hold Waqf rights over property with a commercial value of over Rs 2,000 crore.
The unassuming dargah called locally as the “Dudadhari dargah” after the Sufi saint’s propensity to provide milk to visiting devotees is also symbolic of the way land sharks in connivance with government officials have attempted to grab Waqf properties across the country. This was before the present BJP government stepped in and decided to suspend a former Waqf Board CEO, who had denied the dargah’s claim over Waqf land. The dargah trust still has a long legal fight on its hands before it manages to reclaim 53 acres of the contentious land, a part of which has been sold to a builder. The government’s decision to suspend one of its officials has, however, instilled some faith that the community would be able to reclaim Waqf land that has been transferred and sold illegally.
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In India, over 4 lakh acres comprise Waqf land, out of which 90,000 acres are in Maharashtra alone. A committee instituted by the state government to look into irregularities in the functioning of Waqf properties had claimed that nearly 70 per cent of this land was encroached.
The cumulative value of these properties runs into thousands of crores and, if harnessed properly, the money can be channelised to help the Muslim community, which lags on almost all socio-economic scales.
Interestingly, the move has garnered sympathy for the BJP from the community, who said they were not expecting such a move from a BJP government. “We were pretty sure had there been a Congress government we would definitely have lost out on this land. The loot of Waqf property has gone unchallenged all these years. We are thankful to this government for doing what is right,” said Salim Ahmed Khan, a patron of the dargah and a petitioner in the case.
The literal meaning of the word “Waqf” in Arabic is to preserve. However, in theology it means the irrevocable giving of one’s property, which should be used for the welfare of the community.
The property of the dargah, which was in 1984 registered formally as the Dudadhari Masjid Trust, was granted in 1649 by Mughal prince Murad Baksh, the younger brother of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
A Waqf endowment letter dated 1649 in Persian allots “nim chawar” (50 acres) of land at a location which is now called Morwadi, located 6 km away from the dargah.
The endowment was renewed by the then Peshwas in a letter addressed in the Modi script. Subsequently, the British government gazette of 1927 also identified the land to be Waqf property ordained to the dargah and subsequent mosque that had come up in the place.
“Due to the ignorance of our elders, many of whom were illiterate, we did not realise that the dargah had been endowed with this Waqf land. We realised this in 2004 but came to know that rights had already been created on that land. The government machinery failed us in spite of such clear evidence of the land being Waqf property,” said Mushtak Nete, who initiated the trust’s legal battle.
The rights on the land were created in favour of the family of a local politician, Nana Mahale, who is presently associated with the Nationalist Congress Party. Mahale’s lawyers claimed in court that the Mahale family’s ancestors were tenants on the land and had, subsequently, purchased the said land. Interestingly, tenancy rules are not applicable on Waqf land.
Subsequently, the Mahales gave a part of the land to a developer to construct a housing complex of over 300 flats. The dargah trust and the Mahales subsequently got embroiled in a legal battle culminating in a fight in the Supreme Court. The SC in 2015 directed the Maharashtra Waqf Board to give a report on whether the said property was a Waqf property or not.
On January 2016, the then acting Waqf Board CEO Naseem Banu Patel filed an affidavit in response to a special leave petition filed in the Supreme Court stating that an inquiry under Section 40 of the Waqf Act was pending as the powers were contemplated to the members of the Waqf Board.
However, two weeks later she held a hearing and gave an order stating that the said land did not quantify as Waqf property. “The then CEO despite knowing that she does not have power to decide the matter under Section 40 of the Waqf Act and that the power lies only with the Waqf Board passed this order. She did not call the Waqf Board meeting and neither did she consult the board members. In spite of knowing that she lacked jurisdiction and power she brazenly flouted rules to facilitate the misappropriation of the Waqf property,” said Mohammed Hamid, member of the central government-appointed Central Waqf Council.
Hamid had lodged a complaint with the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the central minority department after which the inquiry against Patel was instituted in late 2016. Patel was subsequently suspended after the inquiry found her intentions to be malafide.
“The Waqf Act does not allow the CEO of a trust to decide the title of a Waqf property. The Act categorically says that this can be decided only by the Waqf Board. The said officer did not act as per the directives of the Act and the state has taken necessary action against her,” said Shyam Tagade, Principal Secretary, Minority Development Department.
Meanwhile, in spite of the order, which is partially in favour of the dargah, the trustees are preparing themselves for a long legal fight.
“It will be a long haul before the community gets back what is rightfully theirs. However, major changes are needed to be done in the way Waqf properties are handled by the government. If effectively used and administered these properties can transform the lives of the Muslim community. We hope the government acts swiftly in cleaning up the system,” said Parvez Peerzaada, an activist who helped the trust in their legal fight.
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