It is an elementary sum the Assam Wakf Board has never been able to work out. And behind this strange ineptitude lies a story. A story of fecklessness, sheer irresponsibility and never–ending corruption. But let us come to the sum first. It came to light in the Assembly that there are 14,709 Wakf properties in Assam, of which only 179 have been registered under the Wakf Act of 1995. Even if only these registered Wakf assets are considered, their total worth adds up to over Rs 50,000 crores. This is a conservative estimate, because among these Wakf assets are some vast tracts of prime land in Guwahati — 14 bighas in Fancy Bazar and 30 bighas in Pan Bazar and Ulubari. Every year these registered Wakf assets ought to have yielded handsome returns, had they been wisely and honestly maged. The Wakf board could have earned at least Rs 1,000 crores from these registered assets alone, which in turn could have been spent to fund schools, hospitals and other public utilities, institute scholarships and improve the lot of the Muslim poor. Instead the Assam Wakf board earns an astoundingly paltry return of Rs 80–90 thousand per year from its registered assets, as revealed by its current president Neqibur Zaman.
It is a fact that much of the Wakf land in Assam have been usurped or encroached upon. In central commercial areas of Guwahati, flourishing businesses are running on Wakf land. Most of the tents rake in huge profits but pay a pittance as rent to the Wakf board. The question arises — can they get away with such brazenness without the complicity of Wakf board authorities? Since 1957, twelve eminent persons have headed the state Wakf board, including Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who went on to become the President of India. But over the years, the rot has set in slowly but surely. When the foundation stone was laid for the Wakf board headquarters at Dakhingaon in Guwahati in 2011, a shocking Rs 37 lakhs was spent. When an Assembly committee probed the matter, they found only the meplate on the plot but practically nothing else to justify the huge expenditure. The then president of the Wakf board and MLA from Jania, Abdul Khaleq had to step down when the scandal became too embarrassing. The situation has now reached such a pass that Neqibur Zaman, who has begun a drive to free Wakf lands and ensure proper returns, is receiving death threats from rogue businessmen in Fancy Bazar.
And what about successive governments in Assam — why this strange inertia in safeguarding assets that generous Muslims have gifted away for religious purposes and charity? This can be contrasted to the care the state government takes every year in sending Haj pilgrims to Mecca, or the policy to help minority institutions. As in other parts of the world, Muslims in Assam have heeded the Prophet’s eterl words: “When a man dies, only three deeds will survive him — continuing alms, profitable knowledge and a child praying for him”. Had governments in Assam been more pro–active in safeguarding Wakf assets according to laws and regulations drawn up, Muslims in the state would surely have benefited from the generosity of members of their own faith. Instead the suspicion grows stronger that their self–dependence and respect is not an issue for political parties, but keeping them indebted to political patroge surely is. Neqibur Zaman deserves kudos and all support for his endeavour to free Wakf lands from the clutches of unscrupulous businessmen and land mafia, who operate with the blessings of corrupt elements in Dispur and the state administration. It is now for the Tarun Gogoi government to show its gumption and implement the amended Wakf law of 2013.