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Private land out of Wakf control

Prime plots worth several hundred crores of rupees are ready to go out of the control of the Board of Wakfs following a landmark Calcutta High Court ruling.

A division bench of the high court, intervening in a dispute between the mutwali of a Wakf estate on Shakespeare Sarani and the Board of Wakfs, has removed all “private” Wakf property from the administrative control of the government-constituted body. This paves the way for individual mutwalis to take control of several hundred cottahs of Wakf land, much of which was at the centre of an alleged scam some years ago.

West Bengal has over 8,000 Wakf estates, of which around a fourth are in the city. This chunk, however, is worth several times all the other estates put together, as they are located in some of the city’s costliest — in real-estate terms —areas.

Wakf property is grouped in two sections:

— The first, ‘public’ Wakf property, is essentially used for “pious and religious” purposes.

— The second section is ‘private’ Wakf, or Wakf al-al-aulad, used for essentially non-religious purposes; it can be put to residential use or can be used to host social gatherings but, at no cost, can be put to commercial use.

The second chunk — or private Wakf property — constitutes anything between 10 and 20 per cent of the total Wakf property in the city. Officials, however, say it is this chunk that was at the centre of all the allegations that did the rounds a few years ago, when Opposition parties accused the ruling Left Front of a “Wakf scam”.

As this private Wakf is used for non-religious purposes, officials say they are “prone to ill-use and, consequently, allegations of wrongful use”.

The court ruling, delivered by a bench comprising Justice A. Kabir and Justice A.K. Basu recently, concerns this chunk. Taking all private Wakf property away from the ambit of the Wakf Act, 1995, it passed on their control to the individual mutwalis.

Also, the demarcation between what is private Wakf property and what is public Wakf property will now be decided by the judiciary, curbing the Board’s authority even more, felt Muslim law experts.

The court, however, has said both types of Wakf property are going to retain their “Wakf character” and even the private Wakf estates are going to be governed by Mohammedan law and enactments such as the Mussalman Wakf Validating Acts, 1913 and 1930, the Religious Endowment Act of 1863 and the Shariat Law Application Act of 1937.

Chief executive officer of the Board of Wakfs Abdul Matin told Metro that the Board could turn to the Supreme Court. “I have not yet received a full copy of the order but, from what I have gathered, it appears that we will have to appeal against the ruling in the apex court,” he said.

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