Food for thought

Stealing from someone is bad enough. But when something doted by a generous person for charity is stolen, it is a crime utterly shameful and mean. After all, there are not many who dote to the poor and needy in the first place! For decades, generous Muslims in Assam have doted land and valuable properties for charitable purposes. Way back in 1957, the total area of such doted land under the Assam Wakf Board was found to be 15,805 bighas. This has been increasing over the years, as borne out by registration of more land doted as wakf parcels. The present wakf board chairman believes the wakf land must have grown to over 22,000 bighas by now. By his estimate, the total value of all the wakf assets should be about Rs 55,000 crores at the present market rates, which can thereby yield revenue to the tune of Rs 7,000 crore yearly. If even half this amount is forthcoming, it would go a long way to help the poor. But the actual revenue has barely increased to a shockingly paltry Rs 6 lakh in the last fincial year — that too because the present wakf board chairman has been raising a hue and cry over the matter. A considerable part of wakf land in the State is located in prime urban locations which can yield high rents. But sadly, as much as 95 per cent wakf land in Assam is believed to have been encroached upon or usurped. It is a long-running scam in which the land mafia and unscrupulous businessmen have joined hands with corrupt government officials and even some wakf board members. Had the State government applied the amended Wakf Act of 2013, it would have kept such vested interests at bay. The new law imposes stricter punishment to encroachers of wakf land, puts more responsibility on state governments to ensure wakf boards function effectively, makes wakf boards more accountable, envisages better information flow as well as survey and creation of a centralised, web-ebled database of wakf properties. The Assam government has also been sitting over recommendations on better magement of wakf properties, submitted by a House panel on 31 March this year. Meanwhile, the opportunity cost continues to be heavy — income that such properties could generate for the welfare of poor Muslims is being cruelly foregone.

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