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Farooq loses family fief

Srinagar, Sept. 9: One more icon of the Sheikh Abdullah dynasty passed out of its control when the family had to surrender the Muslim Aquaf Trust to public takeover after the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir armed itself with an ordinance.

Till yesterday, the trust, headed by former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, was considered a family fief. But late in the night, following a cabinet decision, police and civil administration officials swooped down on hundreds of offices of the trust, the only Muslim religious trust in Kashmir.

“After the promulgation of the ordinance, the government took charge of 89 shrines and 39 properties, including the famous Hazratbal shrine and the shrine of Kashmir’s patron saint, Sheikh Noor Din Wali, at Chrar-e-Sharief,” finance minister Muzzafar Hussain Baig told a news conference here.

Baig said the state government was forced to take this decision following “credible reports of large-scale swindling of funds and misuse of Wakq properties” by the trust’s “office-bearers and members”.

The trust was established in 1973 by the late chief minister and then president of the National Conference, Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh Abdullah became its lifelong president later. After his death, Farooq Abdullah took over its control.

Baig said “crores of rupees have been given as interest-free loan to influential close relatives of Dr Farooq Abdullah…” and added that “recently, close relatives of vice-chairman of the trust, Ghulam Nabi Kochak, were given interest-free loans”.

“There are reports that in anticipation of government action, a number of Wakq properties were disposed of in a hush-hush manner,” Baig said. “A thorough probe would be conducted into all these matters which would be followed by legal action against the accused.”

The minister said the objective of bringing in the ordinance was to de-politicise the sensitive institution and make it “function in accordance with the aspirations of the people”. He however clarified that the government “would have absolutely no role in the functioning of the board and it would function as an independent constitutional authority with chief minister as the ex-officio chairman of the board.”

Officials say the trust’s annual income through offerings and monthly rent on properties it owned exceeds Rs 7 crore. If the government succeeds in bringing the alleged misappropriation of funds and misuse of property to public notice, the National Conference would receive another major jolt to its reputation.

Yesterday, National Conference president Omar Abdullah met deputy chief minister Mangat Ram Sharma and People’s Democratic Party ministers, requesting them not to take over the trust. After the takeover, Omar said: “We will challenge the government decision in court and also launch a public campaign against it.”

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