Every sixth property owned by the Punjab Wakf Board in the state is under encroachment of private entities.
Of the 34,237 properties registered with the board, 5,754 units (chunks of land with different measurements) have been encroached upon by private bodies. The board despite having received various complaints has failed to take possession of the lands.
Also, 430 land units have been encroached upon by the government/semi-government departments besides the local bodies department.
As many as 3,508 units fall under the category of “not located” as owing to the tampering with/changes in the land revenue records, the board has failed to locate these properties.
The encroachments are maximum in Ludhiana, where 1,493 units have been encroached upon by private entities, a few of these by influential politicians. Bathinda with 1,475 encroached-upon properties is next, followed by Jalandhar, Amritsar and Rajpura/Sirhind with 465, 430 and 410 encroachments, respectively.
Ludhiana-based RTI activist Rohit Sabharwal, who is on the panel of the encroachment monitoring committee constituted on the orders of the Punjab and Haryana high court, had procured a list of encroachments from the wakf board and asked it to remove these.
He also sent the complaint against the alleged lackadaisical attitude of the board officials to the Punjab governor with a copy to the chief minister and the chief secretary. The state home department has since sent two reminders to the wakf board for taking effective steps in this direction.
Interestingly, a communique from the office of Punjab Wakf Board CEO Zulfiqar Ali to Sabharwal, with a copy to the governor, said the board was making efforts in this direction. However, the letter referred to only 883 cases that the board was pursuing in various courts to retrieve its properties.
Question mark on role of estate officer
HT had highlighted a case of “illegal construction” of a house in the graveyard on the wakf board land earmarked for Muslims at Jhamat village, 10 km from Ludhiana, in August last year.
When the matter was brought to the notice of the Ludhiana estate officer, he said the land had been given to one Darshan Singh almost seven years ago for construction on 300 square feet of land up to 2014, but the information procured under the RTI said the land was given on lease for a period of almost three years (33 months), beginning August 2006. The RTI information does not talk about the renewal of the lease, clearly showing that it lapsed in May 2009.
Now, the illegal occupant has started another construction at the graveyard, which puts a question mark over the role of the estate officer.
What CEO says
Board CEO ZulfiqarAli said they were trying their best to retrieve the lands from illegal occupants. “Parliament has amended the Wakf Act in 2013, wherein more teeth have been provided to get the land vacated from illegal occupants.
The Punjab Wakf Board will be the biggest beneficiary as and when the state government constitutes the tribunal under the amended Act. The Centre is communicating with the state government on the issue,” the CEO said.
Wakf board and its earnings
Punjab Wakf Board is a statutory body constituted by the department of home, Punjab government, under the Wakf Act, 1995. Several mosques, graveyards and dargahs are registered with the board in addition to the wakf properties.
The earning from the wakf board land/properties goes to the welfare works for the Muslim community, including salaries of imams, pensions of widows, and maintenance of mosques and madrasas.