Wakf land scam: Flood reveals encroachment of graveyard by colonisers in Bathinda | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Wakf land scam: Flood reveals encroachment of graveyard by colonisers in Bathinda

Earth had caved in at many places due to the flood last week, and 10 graves in two rows appeared, visibly hollow. It also came to light that large portions of the wakf board’s more than 19 acres have been carved into plots being sold mainly to illiterate migrant labourers without any lease document.

punjab Updated: Jun 07, 2017 10:07 IST
Prabhjit Singh
Graves exposed over land encroached by illegal colonisers on the outskirts of Bathinda.
Graves exposed over land encroached by illegal colonisers on the outskirts of Bathinda.(Sanjeev Kumar/HT)

Flooding of a plotted housing project due to a canal breach on the outskirts of Bathinda has exposed that land mafia did not even spare graves while encroaching upon a huge chunk that belongs to the wakf board. 

Earth had caved in at many places due to the flood last week, and 10 graves in two rows appeared, visibly hollow. It also came to light that large portions of the wakf board’s more than 19 acres have been carved into plots being sold mainly to illiterate migrant labourers without any lease document.

On Wednesday, when the district administration sent a revenue official for a survey to compensate the suburban families for losses due to the flooding, it found that nobody among the 100-odd households had documents to prove ownership or residency.

A deeper look revealed that the illegal colony, named Sai Nagar, was carved out by Gidderbaha-based commission agents Rajesh Kumar, Vijay Kumar, Dev Raj and Sanjeev Kumar, and a local resident named Kamaljit Kaur, who has a house on a part of the land. The encroachment dates back to at least a decade. Wakf (or waqf) essentially means dedication of any property for a purpose recognised by the Muslim law as pious, religious or charitable. The board is custodian of such properties, including graveyards.

Illegal plots carved out by land mafia over wakf board land on the outskirts of Bathinda. (Sanjeev Kumar/HT)

When the plot- and house-owners gathered around the patwari (revenue official) at the site, Kamaljit finally came forward from the crowd to acknowledge that she “took the land from different landholders several years back” and further sold it out by carving out plots. She, however, disowned boundary walls of newer plots carved out over graves.

When confronted about documents, she expressed ignorance, and then acknowledged that the land belonged to the wakf board. “We could not get these plots registered as the land is of the board and the matter is in court,” she said.

Order ignored

But the district court has already disposed of the matter, and ordered vacation of the 155 kanals (nearly 20 acres) of land on February 2 this year. Names of the land mafia are in the court order. “The defendants are illegally and forcibly raising construction over the suit land without any authority and permission of the plaintiff (wakf board),” stated the court order.

The plots continue to be carved out, notwithstanding the order. It further stated, “Possession of defendants over the suit land is illegal and unauthorised and they are not entitled to remain in possession of the suit land any more and bound to hand over the vacant possession of the land to the plaintiff (wakf board)”.

Poor families fleeced by the land mafia await compensation after flooding after a canal breach last week. (Sanjeev Kumar/HT)

Caught in a bind 

Stuck in the middle — between seeking relief for flood loss, and the very status of the properties — are mostly labourers, who have paid around Rs 2 lakh each for plots of 65 sq yards each. One such labourer from western UP said he paid Rs 1.5 lakh two years ago for settling here with his wife and children. What he got was a mere affidavit on a stamp paper that Gagandeep Singh was handing over possession of the said plot to him. 

“I will not be responsible in any circumstances if the wakf board objects to the possession of its land by the buyer,” stated the affidavit that the illiterate labourer could not read.

Over the past two years, thus, the mafia earned Rs 2 crore in such deals.

‘Sought report’

Sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Sakshi Ssahni, when contacted, said she had now sought “a complete report” from the Bathinda Wakf Board executive officer (EO). “There are two issues — humanitarian compensation for the material loss due to floods, and the larger mater of the status of the land, which is also being probed ,” she said.

Wakf board EO Ashraf Mohammad only acknowledged that he is preparing the report.

Activist Nagina Begum shows the copy of a court order against the land mafia. (Sanjeev Kumar/HT)

Social activist and local Congress leader Nagina Begum, who has been pursuing the matter of encroachment of wakf board land across Bathinda, successfully pursued the matter of the illegal colony. “I am fighting the battle for the past many years, and this court order is a little bit of success. But the big hope is to get the wakf land back from the mafia in the entire city,” she told HT.

Promise without legality

A day after the flooding, local MLA and Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal visited the area and ensured “all help”, including financial compensation, for losses.

As the minister spoke, encroachment lynchpin Kamaljeet Kaur stood among his supporters, hailing him for it.

An approach road and an extended sewerage line were other promises made by the minister, who remained inaccessible for comments on the legality of the “development” for the encroached land.