सोमवार, जुलाई 23, 2012

Land Mafia Thrives on Graveyards

Firdaus Khan
Muslims in Haryana are under immense pressure not from outside but from the Waqf officials themselves. The Waqf Board of Haryana has been making all-out efforts to sell Waqf property clandestinely in collusion with the land mafia. And this time not even graveyards have been spared. For a few fast bucks, officials have been desecrating graves so that graveyards can be deleted from official records and maps, facilitating their sale in the open land market. As a result, the Muslims of Haryana are finding it hard to find places for burying their dead and are deeply hurt and peeved at the ‘afterlife’ of their dead.

Take the case of late Manohar, a devout but poor Muslim from village Parnala in Jhajjar, Haryana. The 60-year-old died but the villagers denied him a place in the village graveyard. The reason? Some musclemen of the village have laid claim over the graveyard: Bhagwana, Uday, Naththu and Phool Singh have illegally captured the whole land. Jeevan Malik of the Haryana Muslim Khidmat Sabha revealed that when a complaint was lodged with Rifaqatullah, the Estate Officer of Waqf Board in Jhajjar, he told the people that it was none of his business to have their dead buried. The people then turned to the District Administration and the dead body could receive its last rites only after administrative intervention.

Manohar was a very unfortunate man. His wife Raziya, who passed away before him, got the same treatment on her death. While people were grieving over the dead body, strongmen were busy establishing their claims over the graveyard in a bid to deny the departed soul her rightful place in the womb of mother earth.

Biruddin, son of late Abdul Gafoor, who buried his father in the Chand Sarai graveyard which is spread over 21 bighas in Karnal, Haryana, alleges that the Waqf officials are hand in glove with the land grabbers and prevent any action from being taken against the encroachers. He says that the musclemen of late built a boundary wall around the graveyard overnight. Seventeen people have different sorts of claims over the land. It is noteworthy that the Punjab and Haryana High Court had given a verdict in the favour of the graveyard on 19 September 2008. The Court had strictly said that plotting of the graveyard land was illegal and goes against the past strictures of the Court. Desecration of graves was termed as a criminal act punishable by a jail term. When the local Muslim organisations in association with the Minorities Commission pressurised the Waqf Board, the lease to this land was abrogated, but the latest report is that land mafia has again encroached upon the graveyard.

In the last 7 years, the revenue of the Waqf Board has gone up by 273 per cent. In 2004-05, the Waqf Board earned 5.23 crores while in 2011-12, this increased to 17.62 crores. Recently, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda announced a re-evaluation of Waqf properties and ordered that action be taken against the encroachers. But the same government had also come up with advertisements in newspapers where it had lauded the Waqf Board.

Colonies and shops built over graveyards
After independence, the Government of India enacted the Waqf Act in 1954. In 1995 some far-reaching amendments were made in the Act. Under Article 13 (1) of the Act, the Chandigarh Waqf Board was constituted which was to be responsible for the upkeep of religious places in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. But as per a notice issued by the Central Government on 29 July 2003, this Board was scrapped. Subsequently, on 1 August 2003, Haryana Waqf Board was constituted. This Board abrogated all principles and practices that it was constituted to uphold and Muslim religious properties began to be sold. The Board officials started leasing Waqf properties. Colonies and shops were built over graveyards.

Famous Chand Sarai graveyard leased to land mafia
As per a gazette notification issued by the Government of India, the Haryana Waqf Board holds 12,494 properties including 20,908 acres of land. Earlier this was under the Punjab Waqf Board. First, the Punjab Waqf Board officials misappropriated or sold these properties and later the practice continued under the Haryana Waqf Board. The officials of Haryana Waqf Board sold the Waqf properties in nexus with the land mafia. Recently a case of selling a graveyard came to light in Karnal. Mohammad Yaqub Sarawali, the estate officer in Karnal office of Waqf Board, and the Lease and Acquisition Officer in Ambala Headquarters, Imtiaz Khizar, colluded with the Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Parwez Ahmad and leased the famous Chand Sarai graveyard which occupies 21 bighas to the land mafia. This graveyard was leased by Ashok Kumar, a resident of Urban Estate, and Sunil Kumar, a resident of Sector 4, for agricultural purposes but they have planned a colony over the land and carved out plots for selling to private owners. These two desecrated the graveyard and destroyed the graves to making way for an approach road to the proposed colony. On a complaint by the Muslims of the area, the administration stopped the construction work while Waqf officials tried to mislead them.

Graveyard converted into a slum
In Bahadurgarh of Jhajjar,  two Waqf Bord properties of 52 and 3 bighas have been converted into colonies. In Shershah village of Sonepat, 10 bighas of  Waqf property has been encroached upon and private houses been built. Karnal has a graveyard but that has also been occupied illegally for housing purposes. In Terawadi, in Karnal, the workers of this industrial area have encroached upon the graveyard and converted it into a slum.

Graveyard yields hefty profit
Some of the cases show that private parties took Waqf land on lease and then sold it to some other party for a hefty price. In Karnal itself, a graveyard in Indri area has been sold. In 1987-88, the graveyard was leased to one Shamsuddin and Mughaluddin (sons of Mohammad Sadiq), and one Nayaz Din (son of Maula Bukhsh) for Rs. 225 per month (vide administrative letter 24/lease urban-file no. H-5-9/87-88/19538, dated 1-04-1988). Later, Shamsuddin’s son, Jamil, made two shops over the land and sold them to one Shanti Devi, wife of Chandra Lal, resident of Ward No. 1, Karnal, for Rs. 80,000 each.

Guru Granth Sahib’s translator’s grave missing
Along side the Ambala-Jagadhari highway is another graveyard of historical significance. Here too graves have vanished into thin air. Due to theft of epitaphs, the presence of graves cannot be made out. When retired Justice Mahendra Singh, member of the State  Minority Commission, visited the graveyard responding to a complaint in this respect, it came to light that the grave of J.P. Collingham, the person who translated the Guru Granth Sahib into English and who was buried in 1849, has also gone missing.

Revenue of Waqf Board up by 273 per cent
The Chief Co-ordinator of the Haryana Muslim Khidmat Sabha, Advocate Mohammad Rafiq Chauhan, opines that the number of Muslims in Haryana is minuscule and at the same time ill-educated, and this is the reason why Waqf Board officials have been misleading and exploiting them and their religious endowments. He has appealed to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, to intervene in this matter but there is no response from her side so far. He has also written letters to Rahul Gandhi.