In a major embarrassment for the state government, the Bombay high court, on Wednesday, struck down a notification establishing the Wakf Board of Maharashtra. The court held that the board was not “properly constituted”, and was established without following the mandatory procedure.
The Wakf Act stipulates that the state government is required to set up a separate Shia Wakf Board if the number of properties of Shia Wakfs, or their valuation, exceeds 15% of the total number of Wakfs across the state, or the valuation of their properties, respectively.
To verify this, a survey of all the Wakfs, which are essentially Muslim religious charitable trusts, needs to be conducted. In 1997, the Maharashtra government appointed a commissioner to undertake the survey. However, a unified Wakf Board was established before the survey report was submitted on January 31, 2002.
A few Muslim trusts challenged the establishment of this Wakf Board, contending that the mandatory procedure had been ignored. The government, however, countered by arguing that the state had the discretion to either constitute a combined board or have separate boards for Shia and Sunni trusts.
The high court dismissed the government’s submission stating it was not well founded.
“Because, if it is established that the number of Shia Wakfs is more than 15% of total Wakfs in a state, or the value of their properties is more than 15 % of value of properties of all Wakfs, the state government cannot deny constitution of separate Wakf Board for Shia Wakfs,” the court observed.
While striking down the state’s notification, the court also observed that the State Wakf Board had only two members, whereas the law requires at least seven members, apart from the chairperson, to make up the board.
“A board having only two members cannot be said to be properly constituted and therefore, we hold that the constitution of the Wakf Board of Maharashtra is not in accordance with the law.”
The Wakfs, as ordered by the court, will be governed by the Bombay Public Trusts Act till the time a duly constituted Wakf Board comes into existence.