Controversy

Row over a report

Print edition : May 27, 2016

Bangalore, March 26, 2012: Anwar Manippady (centre), Chairman of the Karnataka State Minorities Commission, submitting his report on wakf properties in the State to Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda. Photo: K. MURALI KUMAR

A report by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission detailing misuse of wakf property over several decades has resulted in a confrontation between the ruling Congress, which has rejected the report, and the opposition in the State.

IN March 2012, the Karnataka State Minorities Commission came up suo motu with a 7,000-page report on encroachments on and misuse and illegal disposal of wakf properties in Karnataka. The report is authored by Anwar Manippady, who was appointed Chairman of the commission by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the State. The “scam”, even going by the government guideline values for land (not the prevailing market rates), is estimated at more than Rs.2.40 lakh crore.

According to the Manippady report, out of the 54,000 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of wakf land in the State, between 25,000 and 27,000 acres have been “embezzled by powerful politicians, influential persons, bureaucrats, State and district wakf board officials, and the ‘wakf land mafia’, acting with the willing and systematic connivance of pliable mutavallis (caretakers or managers), officials of various wakf and wakf advisory boards and the Revenue Department, middlemen and influential leaders of the Muslim community”. The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government has rejected the report.

(According to the 2008 report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on wakf, around 30,000 wakf institutions in Karnataka held around 19,000 acres. The report also cites 189 cases of encroachment on wakf properties. In around 40 of these, government agencies themselves were said to be responsible.)

The Manippady report states that around 85 per cent of the cases were in urban areas. The methodology adopted in compiling the report was simple: source a wakf property’s original revenue records, be it survey maps of the Survey of India (some going back to the 1930s and 1940s) or gazette notifications, especially the Mysore gazette notification of 1974, and compare them with the situation on the ground.

Manippady told Frontline that in many cases the original survey showed a piece of land having “x” acres, but today only a fraction of that land existed under that survey number. The “lost land” is now part of other newly created survey numbers with new owners. Said Manippady: “The report indicates what the extent of land was as per the original survey and what it is today.” He added: “I have enclosed every relevant land record as part of my report, and in regions like Karnataka-Hyderabad the records drawn on cloth are methodical and crystal clear. It is for the government to investigate the hows and the whys, and what went on in wakf properties.”

In 2012, the government itself referred the matter to the Karnataka Lokayukta for a probe under Section 7(2A) of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act. But nothing happened until Justice Narayanappa Ananda, who took over in December 2015 as the Upalokayukta, began investigating the cases listed in the Manippady report and complaints made to the Lokayukta’s office. He submitted his findings in a 15-volume report on March 28, 2016.

But just days after Justice Narayanappa Ananda submitted his report, the Siddaramaiah government withdrew the terms of reference for the Lokayukta probe thereby effectively nullifying his report. Sources in the Lokayukta told Frontline that the Ananda report substantiated most of what had already been said in the Manippady report.

Wakf explained

A wakf, under the Islamic context of “sadaqah” (voluntarily giving charity out of compassion, love, fraternity, religious duty or generosity), is an inalienable, permanent dedication of movable or immovable property made for any purpose recognised by Muslim law as religious, pious or charitable by a philanthropic person professing Islam who has no intention of reclaiming the asset. The donated assets may be held by a charitable trust. The grant is known as mushrut-ul-khidmat, while the person making the dedication is known as wakif. Section 3(r) of the Wakf Act, 1995, defines wakf as a “permanent dedication”, which clearly indicates that “once a wakf is validly created it continues to remain the same and cannot be extinguished”.

The Supreme Court bench of Justices A.S. Anand and V.N. Khare brought more clarity to it when hearing a civil appeal dated January 28, 1998, by ruling that “a wakf is a permanent dedication of property for purposes recognised by Muslim law as pious, religious or charitable and the property having been found as wakf would always retain its character as a wakf. In other words, once a wakf always a wakf.” The bench said: “After a wakf has been created it continues to be so for all time to come and further continues to be governed by the provisions of the Wakf Act….”

A wakf is created to provide for the financial needs (maintenance, staff salaries, and so on) of a mosque or dargah and its congregation and is usually located in close proximity to the structure concerned. However, in the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada, the designated wakf is often a fair distance away. While the mosque/dargah is in the heart of the city, the designated wakf may be an areca nut garden in a rural area. The income from the areca garden was and still is used for the upkeep of the mosque. For example, the Nadumpalli Jumma Masjid is located in the heart of Mangaluru. But its wakf is an areca garden around 15 kilometres away on 15 acres and 15 cents (one acre=100 cents) as per documents at the Wakf Board. It is another matter that of this area 15 acres have been siphoned off. In actual fact, it has been encroached to such an extent that only 15 cents are now in the possession of the masjid.

Manippady’s report, a copy of which was accessed by Frontline, states that there has been a failure of the Karnataka State Wakf Board in “protection of wakf properties; administration and protection of wakf institutions, auditing of accounts of wakf institutions that have huge properties that generate substantial income and get huge donations, most of which is not accounted for by the Wakf Board as ‘wakf fund’; updating records of wakf properties; and handling of court cases and filing of replies in courts against the interests of wakf lands, and on the contrary favouring encroachers and culprits”. The report states that “the illegal and fraudulent activities” have gone on for decades.

The list of encroachers/people involved or responsible for the illegal and fraudulent activities with regard to wakf land, according to the Manippady report, is a veritable who’s who of Congress politicians in Karnataka and their kin, bureaucrats and wakf board officials. Among them are former Union Ministers, a former Chief Minister, present and past Ministers in the State, former Members of Parliament, legislators, educationists, former bureaucrats of both the Central and State cadres, businesspersons/builders/politicians, and present and past members of the Wakf Board. (See box for details on encroachments/misuse of wakf properties as listed in the report.)

When Frontline contacted some of those who are named in the report, the response was that “it is politically motivated”. They point out that Manippady was appointed by the BJP government. But there are also a number of voices that find some “truth in it”. Said a Congress politician from the Muslim community: “It is only because a BJP man [Manippady] is the author that it has got a bad name. It would have been ideal if a retired judge had penned the report. No political motivation could then have been attributed.”

A senior politician who has been named in the report said it could not be dismissed as nonsense. “Let the government have it inquired into. Let those who are guilty of knocking off wakf land donated for the welfare of the poor of the community be caught and hanged. Whoever or however big the person is,” this politician said.

Methods used

The report states that encroachers used a variety of methods to usurp, encroach on or misuse immovable wakf properties. One of the most blatant methods, it says, is to give the property on lease/rent at abnormally low rates over long periods, even 99 years, and make a financial killing on the side. More ingenious methods take time but are profitable manifold. As is the norm, the wakf property is taken care of by a mutavalli. Part of his duties is to pay the municipal taxes and take care of other revenue-related activities. Over a period of time the mutavalli begins to pay the municipal taxes in his name and not in the name of the dargah or trust. He is, of course, aided and abetted by Revenue Department officials and those in the State and/or district wakf boards, who issue him, if need be, a no objection certificate (NOC). This is the first step in the process to transfer the property to his own name, points out the report. In the event of any queries posed by the Revenue Department authorities, he shows the NOC. Once the property’s title is transferred to his name, it is sold off. Many of those who helped the mutavalli stand to benefit the most.

Another method, according to the report, is for mutavallis to claim ownership of a property by stating that his forefathers had been gifted it decades ago. The wakf board concerned, the report states, illegally and wrongly denotifies the property and the mutavalli is given a certificate to show that the property has been given to his family.

Yet another method, states the report, is for the property’s revenue documents, specifically the survey number, to be fragmented into a number of subdivisions. These subdivided survey numbers are given new names. The land bearing the original survey number is now a fraction of what it was originally. The new owners of the subdivided survey numbers are free to sell or lease “their” property, the report states.

Responding to questions whether the commission could bring out such a report, Manippady explained that the Karnataka State Minorities Commission was well within its rights to undertake a study and come out with a report since the commission, besides examining the working of various safeguards provided in the Constitution and in the laws passed by the State legislature for the protection of minorities, was duty-bound under Section 10 (1)(h) of the KSMC Act “to study any other matter which, in the opinion of the commission, is important from the point of view of the welfare and development of minorities to make appropriate recommendations”.

Manippady also pointed out that under Section 10(2), “the government shall cause the recommendations of the commission to be laid before each house of the Legislature along with the memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations”. Also, under Section 15, “the government shall cause the annual report, together with a memorandum of action taken on the recommendations contained therein, so far as they refer to the State government, and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, of such recommendations, to be laid, as soon as may be, after the reports are received, before each house of the Legislature”. Although the Manippady report was submitted in March 2012 to the then Chief Minister D.V. Sadananada Gowda of the BJP, and despite subsequent decisions, including a Cabinet decision in 2013 by the Jagadish Shettar dispensation and an assurance by the Siddaramaiah government to table it in the Legislature, it continues to lie in cold storage. The Siddaramaiah government has cited technicalities for not placing the report before the House.

Recommendations

The Manippady report has three key recommendations: keep the Karnataka State Board of Wakfs “under suspension for 12 months” in order to enable a fair investigation; constitute a task force for wakf properties to retrieve the wakf properties in accordance with the Supreme Court’s ruling; and set up a high-powered committee to work out the modalities to run the Wakf Board in a transparent manner.

The Siddaramaiah government’s explanation is that there are no provisions under the Central Wakf Act to keep the Wakf Board under suspension. The fact is that the State government has the power to supersede the board for a period not exceeding six months after issuing a show cause notice to the board. The government says that in 2013 a task force on wakf boards was set up and it was vested with powers on the lines of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and the Bengaluru Development Authority task forces.

In the Siddaramaiah government’s view, the Manippady report consists of two parts, the original report and the recommendations. Karnataka Law Minister T.B. Jayachandra said: “I have already put it in writing that the government has acted as per Section 10(2) of the Karnataka State Minorities Commission Act, 1994, and placed the recommendations of the Manippady report on the floor of the House. These recommendations have been rejected. The Act does not specify that we have to table the entire original report. The Act is superior. I cannot go by the opposition’s demands even if they are making a big noise on tabling the original report. The government has fulfilled what was expected of it. The matter is also in court, let us see what the court says.”

The Minister added that once the report was tabled it could not be further discussed in the House and had to be referred to the “Committee on Papers Laid on the Table”, a joint committee of both Houses of the legislature, where it will be decided whether it is in the prescribed form or not. “The House cannot go on discussing the report again and again.”

The Minister also said the Siddaramaiah government had rejected the report. However, he was not prepared to specify why, except for saying that “there are so many technicalities…. I don’t want to go into them. Neither do I want to go into the allegations made in the report on encroachment or other wrongdoings.” But many of his Cabinet colleagues, including those from the Muslim community, are of the view that the Siddaramaiah government is making a mistake by shying away from tabling the report.

Today the report has become a political hot potato between the ruling Congress and the opposition parties, the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular). With the Congress making excuses to not table it, the opposition has resorted to stalling proceedings in the legislature, especially the Legislative Council, where dharnas and adjournments were the order of the day for nearly the entire recent session. The Leader of the House in the Council, S.R. Patil, said the government had consulted the Attorney General on the issue and added that under the rules, it had to table only the memorandum explaining the action taken on the recommendations of the report. What irked the opposition was that in the legislature session in November Siddaramaiah suggested to the opposition that the Manippady report could be tabled in both Houses during the next joint legislature session (which was scheduled for January 2016). The Chief Minister’s suggestion was agreed upon by other members of the Business Advisory Committee, including the opposition leaders. However, the government failed to act during the joint session and in March it rejected the report. What it tabled in the Legislative Council was only a memorandum explaining the action taken on the report’s recommendations and not the complete report.

The opposition has taken the issue to Governor Vajubhai Vala. A delegation led by the BJP’s K.S. Eshwarappa submitted a memorandum seeking his intervention and urging him to take “necessary action” on the “failure” of the government to table the report despite a ruling by the Chairman of the Council, D.H. Shankaramurthy, and the direction of the Karnataka High Court.

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