Waqf is a charitable endowment permanently dedicated by an individual to God to provide services to the community. The institution of Muslim endowments under the names of Idara auqaf islamia, and later Muslim Auqaf Trust, and then as Jammu and Kashmir Board for Muslim Specified Wakfs' began in 1940s. Though with a noble cause but it lost its track midway due to poor waqf management, and excessive politicisation. And today it is yet again in search of its identity. What is lacking at the moment is an increased public interest in waqf institution and that is because of an established mass perception that waqf institution (Board) lacks transparency, accountability and credibility. Let us first look into what have been the basic problems so far:
Primarily lack of a developmental vision, clarity and absence of an innovative waqf framework that could have led to a functional management. Also lack of serious effort to enhance internal management, planning, and decision making, further impoverished auqaf in the erstwhile state of J&K. It has also been a massive Human Resource Management (HRM) problem – the very process of managing people in the organization in a structured and thorough manner. What actually was the waqf institution's HRM formula (as people generally say) was to fill in ruling party workers even if already retired, and that continues till date.
The Concerns Today
At the moment the Auqaf affairs seem to be far from being driven by right concerns. Post abrogation of Article 370 like many other institutions, waqf also witnessed a serious uncertainty, sort of an existential crisis that it still is in. The erstwhile state waqf act (Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Specified Waqf and Waqf properties (Management and Regulation) Act, 2004) was repealed after the State was downgraded to the UT status; waqf institution already drenched in a plethora of issues fell into an endless chaos. Even after many big promises like establishment of a new Waqf Board for UT of J&K, nothing clear has come to action so far and the basic issues that need an immediate overhaul remain as such. Such issues include,
Lack of ongoing self-reflection, assessment, and adaptation to new waqf models (can't be done amid this uncertainty).
A balance that the administration must maintain as they run such faith based philanthropic institutions (a bias seems clear).
Government can't afford to undermine such an important institution and no confusion can be left unaddressed at this juncture when enough time has passed since October 31,2020. At the moment every sane person feels confused, and the questions – is the new Board in offing? If yes, when is it going to be formed? What about the existing one, since there is also a lack of clarity on how to apply the new law (Central Waqf Act or Wakf (Amendment) Act, 2013), on the already existing board till it is replaced with a new CWC run board? Under which act is the existing board running currently? Does it even exist or not or lies just as a structure without any directions for action? How will the smooth merger of the old into the new one take place without compromising the waqf management of such a huge institution for even an hour? What about the existing employees and their future? Will the earlier Board members be consulted at the time of new Board's formation? Will any waqf knowing persons be nominated as members in the new board or no clean up will be seen again? Will administrators be given a thorough orientation of the Central Wakf Act for the smooth conduct, also remains to be seen? How will the new board differ from the existing one as far as religious functions, education and care for destitute is concerned? There are only questions but with no immediate and satisfying answers.
Managing Muslims Endowments
Waqfs can't be viewed as unimportant. Needless to argue that waqfs have to achieve the needed balance that requires a constant and continuing impact assessment. The effects of political polarization and security paradigm should have nothing to do with auqaf affairs and it should be visible to masses to feel transparency and simultaneously address the deep rooted alienation and sense of discrimination where state should come forward actively and on priority check politicisation of such important institutions.
Regulating waqfs is fine but regulation must facilitate and solve pressing issues that lie deep within. Just criticising or asking questions to auqaf managers is not the solution. Waqf institutions need ample funding and a onetime corpus to widen their area of intervention. Will government consider waqf dynamics on priority (on personalised auqaf) since there is no clear overarching framework, should it make one and take waqf experts on board on that matter? Also the regulation cannot be static but has to be too dynamic to give a good shape to the institution so that it thrives and fulfils its all the three mandates, that is, upkeep of religious shrines/mosques, education of the deserving and care for poor Muslims.
Such institutions should also have the autonomy to have bigger partnerships with big religious umbrella bodies/other trusts/business groups that do big philanthropies, so that big issues (like disasters) can be tackled, besides big scholarships, important and waqf relevant research projects, waqf awareness workshops and conferences are arranged. A waqf movement is needed to be initiated by government to give impetus to waqf institutions and promote waqf studies in the UTs to develop a rich human resource and experts besides giving all possible financial and other help to waqf boards of the two UTs to seek a new and strong beginning.
Understanding the Waqf
A poor and a politicised waqf clearly means discrimination against the deserving. Also the huge number of grievances that led to such a situation of auqaf need to be understood; waqfs can then only be made accountable through stringent audits. Therefore, the difficult balance of regulation from the government's perspective is needed and for that religious leaders need to be consulted to spread waqf related awareness among masses. The current waqf institution in Kashmir needs to be owned with open heart and not dealt with any marginalization and bias. The board members who have a good public welfare record and are credible need to be nominated and not just ruling party politicians/leaders. Some clean personalities and people of substance need to be on the board to uplift auqaf affairs in J&K. Besides the chain of educational institutions (including professional colleges) that waqf runs need a serious attention and care once the new board is formed. The unfortunate reality is that the waqf institution which everybody criticises so blindly created an institution like Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) but when the institution progressed it was taken over by the state and is no longer a waqf asset nor counted as a contribution despite hundreds of kanals of waqf land along with many waqf owned buildings that it has today. Such an action impoverished auqaf further. We need to develop auqaf assets, not snatch them once they grow and start contributing. Waqf contributions need to be well acknowledged as well otherwise it creates a sense of mass negativity and stereotyping of auqaf which itself hinders progress of the institution.
Amidst the ethnic, sectarian, economic, and political diversity of J&K how will the government find its own balance; what about Jammu's State Wakf Council managed properties? People will be happy to see clarity on auqaf situation in the UT and government should demonstrate how amid new circumstances the waqf institution shapes its regulation. And how will it undo the past experiences that underscored the importance of dynamic, waqf-specific approaches to government regulation, is also a big issue to tackle? Just WAMSI project or digitization and geo-tagging of waqfs is not enough, waqfs need a vision and serious action on the ground.
Key areas to work on
Waqf situation in the UT is complex and can't be improved overnight; big issues are there regarding waqf assets, land grabs, rent renewal issues, evacuation issues, etc that need a powerful board not an uncertain team. Further waqf agricultural lands/orchards are to be converted to productive farms. Therefore having collaborations and sharing knowledge and information to manage waqf land (huge 14000 kanals) by introducing modern agricultural and horticultural technologies is needed on priority so that it becomes a handsomely income generating. Also waqf institution needs to venture in some new areas like waqf housing projects, waqf food stores, waqf preparatory schools and also like increasing production of most popular vegetables and poultry and meat production. Since valley's most of the poultry and meat needs are not fulfilled domestically and there is a huge dependence. Waqf can get in and this could give a new impetus to auqaf development and make it a people's auqaf in real sense, in terms of both employment and empowerment. The social value of Muslim endowments and an analysis of state-society relations, and relations of power need a quick and critical assessment. The board needs to ponder over the interest free easy loans through Islamic finance and strengthen its focus on health sector intervention and social finance, such as zakat, waqf and sadaqah in a proper manner to increase their action and annual revenue as well.
The waqf sector is considered the most trusted Institution for delivering public goods in Muslim societies as it effectively institutionalises the Islamic values of charity and therefore needs immediate attention and careful management in J&K. Thus, existing endowments or waqfs must be better managed and used for resource redistribution and strengthen civil society to think about social security and education of the destitute in the region besides a professional upkeep of a huge number of shrines and mosques. There are countries that have over the years built an impressive and strategic network to regulate religious philanthropy affairs and paid close attention to auqaf, we too need to follow such progressive steps to overcome our auqaf issues and start looking at auqaf without any regard for political affiliations. Waqfs, besides government attention, need youth and trained waqf experts to run, which is unfortunately not the priority. We also need to establish waqf studies that I have already emphasised on in my earlier article Thinking waqf in pandemic times.
Dr Adfer Shah is a Delhi based sociologist working in Jamia Millia Islamia. Author is the Associate Editor of Women's Link and Eurasia Review journals. He was awarded George Greenia Research Fellowship for his sociological research on Amarnath pilgrimage by William and Mary, USA