Owners of the iconic sweet shop Chaina Ram Sindhi Confectioners in Old Delhi, along with proprietors of 200 other shops in the vicinity of the centuries-old Fatehpuri Masjid, are a worried lot these days.
At the core of their anxiety lies the Wakf Amendment Act, 2013, a law passed by Parliament last year which seeks to prevent the misuse of Wakf properties and make them commercially viable by leasing them.
The law allows the Delhi Wakf Board, which has rights over all Wakf properties here, to reclaim their possession once the lease of the shop expires. Hari Gidwani, co-owner of Chaina Ram, expressed apprehension that Wakf authorities may ask him and other shopkeepers to vacate and relocate.
“We are not encroachers. We have been here for the past 70 years and paid a monthly rent, with proper receipt as proof. It will not be easy to relocate the business at this point. Many tenants have established livelihoods and removing them would be disastrous,” he said.
Authorities are trying to allay the shop owners’ concerns by saying that the tenants of Wakf properties will not be removed if they have a legal lease and they pay rent.
Chaudhary Mateen Ahmad, the acting chairman of the Delhi Wakf Board, told The Hindu: “Only those who did not renew their lease in the past will be asked to vacate the commercial properties. As per the law, not renewing the lease and not paying the rent makes the shop owner an encroacher”.
As per the new Wakf law, once the lease of its commercial property expires the tenants cease to hold the right to occupy the premises. The new owner of the property will be decided through a bidding process that will be advertised.
“All they need to do is to go through the bidding process and pay the highest rent in accordance with the current market rate as opposed to the paltry sum most of the tenants of Wakf commercial properties presently pay,” added Mr. Mateen.
The shop owners who do not have a lease have reportedly approached the local Member of Parliament, Kapil Sibal, and sought his legal advice. The Wakf Board has not served any eviction notices, but the shopkeepers dread they could do so any time.
Dr. Zafar Mahmood, who actively campaigned for the new law, said most of the Wakf properties across the country suffered from encroachment due to the absence of a proper law to deal with the issue.
“There is an estimated 6 lakh acres of Wakf land in the country, worth Rs. 1.2 lakh crore. The new legislation will provide a perfect mechanism to protect the Wakf properties from encroachment,” he said.