The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha six months ago

The Waqf Boards in India have approximately six lakh acres of land. The income from Waqf land, which is a religious endowment, is used for the welfare of the Muslim community. Yet much of this has been encroached upon, especially in Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

The proposed Waqf (Amendment) Bill 2010 has kindled fears in the community that it might lose control even of what is left of the land. The reason for this is a provision in the Bill under which the succession of the mutawalli (the person responsible for a specified Waqf property) has to be clearly laid out and established in order for the community to access the income.

The fact that the word “community” has been left undefined is another big worry. Zafar Mehmood, president of the Zakat Foundation, says the Bill must unambiguously define “community” as the Muslim community to avoid unnecessary misinterpretation. “What is to stop the poor from other communities from claiming the income?”

The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha six months ago and has been placed before the Rajya Sabha with objections from sections of the Muslim community. It also appears to have overlooked important recommendations of the Sachar Committee as well as the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the functioning of Waqf Boards.

As per the existing Waqf Act of 1995, the CEOs of State Waqf Boards have to be Muslim. However, due to the fact that not many Muslims reach the higher bureaucracy, the positions have tended to be filled by junior government employees, inexperienced public men, and sometimes even government officials holding additional charge of the Waqf Board.

The Sachar Committee, which collected this information in 2006, recommended the creation of an Indian Waqf Service so that a new cadre of officers, conversant with Urdu and Islam, could become available to oversee the Waqf Boards. Mr. Mehmood says the proposal is “well-considered and fully fits into the Constitutional scheme.”

Aware of the pitfalls of employing junior officers as CEOs, the JPC too recommended that at the minimum, a CEO should be of the rank of Director in the State government. The new Waqf Bill proposes an Under Secretary in the State government for the same.

‘Diluted definition'

The other criticism against the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA) is that it has diluted the definition of the word “encroacher.” The Sachar Committee defined an “encroacher” to mean, among other things, a person “who has altered the property leased out to or occupied by him without the prior written permission of the Waqf Board concerned.” This definition finds no place in the Bill.

The Bill in its current form has so upset the Zakat Foundation that it has demanded the intervention of the Prime Minister and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi to sort out the mess. Mr. Mehmood says he wants the MMA to be prevailed upon to amend the proposed provisions before the Bill is taken up for passage in the Rajya Sabha.

Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed, however, has denied the charges vis-à-vis the Bill.

“Records will show that several important Muslim Members of Parliament contributed to the debate and the Bill was passed unanimously in the Lok Sabha. The Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha that has several leading Muslim MPs, including a Member of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, will give its report shortly,” he said.