“The present Wakf Act needs a lot of reform."

Despite being the second largest asset holder organisation, after the state government, why has Jammu and Kashmir Wakf Board failed to come up as an asset generating organisation? Mata Vaishno Devi Board has created universities, and medical colleges, but nothing of the sort we find in case of Wakf.

Firstly, it’s inappropriate to compare Wakf with Mata Vaishno Devi. As an ex income tax authority, I have been associated with that Shrine for income tax matters since 1983. The shrine has become so popular throughout India that it receives devotes from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. I am being told that last year the shrines income was 1000 million, and the expenditure was roughly 20 percent of that. That is one reason you can’t make the comparison between the two religious institutions.

On the other hand, Wakf does have assets but people don’t generously donate towards that. For example, we have assets in terms of shops but the rent we are getting is not much. I am shocked to know that the shops at Boulevard have been licensed at a paltry sum of 275 during 70s. Such prime location don’t deserve a rent of 275. But now from last two to three years there have been attempts by Wakf to revise the rates, but there have been tremendous resistance from the users. On an average, they have to pay 20 rupees rent a day, but they still tell us that the rent are high.

This way the institutions don’t grow. You have to raise the level of consciousness and sensitivity towards this institution. They must think it’s being used for charity, for education, for medical facilities and most importantly for the upkeep of shrines – which is a religious heritage of Kashmiri Muslims. Actually I feel that the earlier management has failed to sell the idea of Wakf to public. People don’t have knowledge that Wakf runs more than 10 higher secondary schools, Nursing College, and religious schools.

Fee structure in our schools is not more than 100 rupees and approximately 8 crore rupees are spent on education, but people don’t know it. Before Joining Wakf I was also not aware that Wakf has educational institutions …I don’t know why these things were not put before people.

Also, there should be an organised study to find out how many causal and consolidated employees Wakf needs. We spend a major chunk of our amount on the salaries of employees.

After the fire broke out in Khanqah-e-Mohalla in 2017, the then Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, who was also the chairperson of the board, asked for the fire and safety audit of shrines. But after a year nothing has been done to protect the shrines that are mostly wooden structures and are vulnerable to fire?

The various departments, who were involved in the process of conducting the audit of the major shrine, have given a particular estimate. Though, the governor administration has been cooperative, but the governor rule has its own limitations.

Soon after the audit was called, the government fell. The problem with political decisions is that how much they are obligatory on the succeeding governments. There I have a problem.

How is it different to manage Wakf during Governor Rule?

The Governor rule didn’t create much difficulty; whenever we approached them they were available.

Which are the institutions wakf has set up over the decade and how they are contributing to society?

As I told you Wakf runs over ten schools, do you think it doesn’t have contributed anything to the society? For example, we have Sultan-ul-Airfeen school at Makhdoom Sahab area, it is doing wonderfully well. The school of Wakf can only be compared with government schools; they can’t be compared with private schools. Let me tell you, when I was not in Wakf, I was critical of the wakf, but now I can say with authority that my schools have done far better than government schools. I am satisfied. Given resources, I will try to make them more modern.

Now talking about creation of other institutions, Wakf has a plan, though it hasn’t matured yet, to create diagnostic centre, or small dispensaries. This plan is just in offing.

Does it run in profit or loss.

Wakf cannot be a profit earning institution. But despite all the hurdles put by unscrupulous elements to grab our assets, and encroach our land, attitude of users of wakf property, wakf is not in loss. But lot of reform is needed. I appeal to Kashmiri Muslims to help the institution. If, for instance, they are aware of any land grab they should inform Wakf immediately.

But there are people who think that the property that belongs to Wakf is ‘Mal-e-Ganeemat’ – war booty – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be given back to Wakf. A man thrice attempted to encroach our land and make unauthorized construction on it. I sent my party and got it demolished, but he again started the construction. Though the neighbours were informing me, but they didn’t muster courage to confront the person and ask him to stop construction on a land that belongs to Wakf. They know it’s wrong to grab someone’s land, but still they act as mute spectators.

Despite having enormous wealth – shops, orchards, forestland and other assets, why is the income of the Wakf low?

The question is that of utilization. Earlier, there has been tremendous contribution from the founders of the Wakf and their subsequent administrators. They have created assets and made proper use of them. I am not sure that from 2000 onwards whether there has been any asset creation. Now-a-days people grab the assets of wakf.

But then there are also people who have come to me and identified our properties that were encroached. For example, in Srinagar, we have over 2-3 Kanals of land at a place, the construction on that land has started 10-15 years ago, but suddenly somene got a stay on it. We vacated the stay, but the subsequent Wakf authorities were not even knowing whether the stay has been vacated or not. Our properties have remained unattended and unutilised.

And one more important point, which is also a demand of the people; politics should be kept away from Wakf. Wakf is not there to provide jobs to political workers.

All these factors later contribute to functioning of the Wakf board.

How much does Wakf spend on the maintenance of shrines?

Roughly we have 25 crores of income, we spend almost all on shrines, Imams, Muezzins and other workers. Though there are complaints that we don’t spend generously on a particular shrines wherefrom we get most of the donations. But the reason for that is, we pool the donation. We don’t consider how much donation we received from a particular shrine, because if we do so the other shrines will remain unattended.

But there is some sort of a sloppiness, we will in coming days try to set it right. Most of the people think that only repair and renovation work is the expenditure, but we have lot of establishment there. In Baba Reshi Shrine, which gives us lot of revenue, we spend 76 lakhs on establishments.

There have been reports that Wakf spends more money on the salaries of employees than on other things?

Yes. Employees of various categories go above thousand. I have to coordinate with board members. We have to sit; discuss what the actual requirement of staff there is. Is Waqf an institution which has to provide employment, or it is there to create institutions and look after the spiritual centres?

How much land of the Wakf is encroached?

Wakf is not yesterday’s institutions. Over the years there have been encroachments. But unfortunately the floods of 2014 washed off the records of the board.

After you took over as the Vice Chairman of the Wakf, what changes have you brought in?

There has been a sense of discipline. I can’t praise myself, but my emphasis from last few months has been to collect more and more arrears which are with the people who are utilising our assets. I make sure to visit places, because a person should know his jurisdiction. I appeal people not to send me any recommendations; I am bombarded with safarish (recommendation).

You have started an audit in the central Wakf office. Has the audit been completed?

When I joined Wakf, I found that there is an audit officer. I asked him, why haven’t you conducted the audit of the central office. He said he never has been asked to conduct an audit. I immediately passed an order for the conduct of an audit. I requested DG Accounts to depute a team and he was kind enough to help us with that. I have worked in a Government of India’s department; I know the importance of an audit.