By Mohd Asif Shah and Ayaz Nabi Malik
The valley of Kashmir has always stood out as a place of generosity, hospitality, charity and communal harmony despite several odds and eventualities. This Reshi Vaer (Valley of saints) has always nurtured and nourished innumerable sons and daughters like Sheikh-ul-Alam, Zain-ud-Din Wali, Lal Ded and Baba Payam-ud-Din Reshi and so on who are held in high reverence and respect by people from all faiths for their teachings of communal harmony, humanity, brotherhood and for the love of nature. That is why, even hundreds and thousands of people, cutting across the faiths, pay daily homage at their final resting places (shrines) as a mark of respect for their overall teachings and contribution to humanity. Out of sheer inspiration from and respect for the saints, the pilgrims do not prefer to retreat unless and until they voluntarily donate in kind or cash as per their volition and capacity. Since long, scores of people of all ages visit these places on q daily basis, so it became exigent for the government to regulate and maintain the flow in an organized and disciplined manner, so as not to create any inconvenience to the pilgrims.
Further, to utilize the donations and revenue for the maintenance of these shrines and for the welfare of the poor section of the society, the then state government established the Muslim Auqaf Trust (presently known as The J&K Muslim Specified Wakfs and Specified Wakf Properties Board) in 1940. Out of the revenue generated from these donations, this institution initially established business units like shopping complexes within the shrine premises and let them out to generate revenue. As it generated and inspired huge amount of revenue from these sources and donations, the Wakf established several formal and informal educational institutions in the valley like Bibi Halima College of Nursing and Medical Technology, Srinagar, Sultan-ul-Arifeen Wakf Higher Secondary School, Srinagar, Jamia Madinat-ul-Uloom, Hazratbal.
However, this otherwise purely socio-religious institution has been invariably manipulated, controlled and monopolized by politics of the state as the Chief Minister has to be its ex-officio chairman, hence precluding any possibility of its autonomy or an apolitical nature. Given its political control, the constitution of this Board is also influenced by nepotism and bias as its members and employees are usually drafted not on the basis of merit but on the basis of relations , favouritism and nepotism. Pertinent to mention here is that in 2012 a committee constituted by the government found that an utterly illiterate chunk of employees is enjoying the bonanza from out of the Wakf money , as out of around 382 permanent employees 148 were totally illiterate and only 34 were graduates, 23 have studied upto 12th only with 76 as matriculates. Imagine the efficiency of the administrative set up of an organization where around 60% of its employees are either totally illiterate or mere matriculates!
The cancer of incompetent and illiterate administration raises several eye-brows without giving any genuine and justifiable explanations as there are none. That is why questions and queries arise as to how and where the hefty sums of donations of kind and cash are spent and utilized given such administrative plight? These doubtful queries are strengthened as one looks into the balance sheet of the Wakf of 2015-16 where its total income from its assets was around 23.28 crores while ironically the expenditure exceeds its income at 23.48 crores. The people are entitled to know from the Wakf authorities as to how and why the expenditure could exceed the income?
With time, everything and every institution grows and evolves. But in case of the Wakf Board, the story is the other way round as other than establishing a limited number of educational institutions, it never tried to expand its scope and public outreach. Apart from running the above-mentioned institutions, it could widen its scope in other equally important fields like healthcare, sanitation, establishment of orphanages, arrangement of marriage of poor girls and boys among several others. In the field of health, it could open small healthcare centres in rural areas, establish free diagnostic centres for poor people, facilitate free ambulance services for the needy preferably in far flung areas and facilitate the treatment of very poor fatal disease patients. Besides these areas, this institution should ensure library facilities across the valley where books on religion, science, history, art, literature, culture, languages and general awareness should be available for general readers.
Nowadays we hear about the concepts like ecotourism, heritage tourism, adventure tourism, cultural tourism and wild-life tourism and so . Another thematic concept is that of Pilgrimage Tourism. The Wakf Board should and could take pains in spreading the knowledge about the teachings and messages of brotherhood and humanity of these saints by circulating messages of their(saints’) wise sayings to be displayed with translations on large hoardings at important public places like airports, railway stations, tourist resorts and so on so that people, irrespective of their faiths, could be attracted to study about these saints and visit their shrines; hence this development could foster the Pilgrimage Tourism in the Kashmir valley which in turn would raise the economic strength of the institution among several other things.
To gain relevance and importance in the society, the board should
(1) ideally and practically function impartially and apolitically;
(2) recruit its administrators and employees essentially on the basis of merit and competence and not on the basis of nepotism and favouritism;
(3) provide information and ensure transparency regarding its income and expenditures through print and electronic media;
(4) properly ensure fair maintenance and management of the shrines under its jurisdiction.
If the concerned authorities really want to see this institution in a vibrant, useful and progressive form, they should work together by taking all the stakeholders on board, so that transparency, accountability and merit prevail. Hope the opinion is agreed with and accordingly necessary steps are taken to make this institution as a living part of our socio-religious set-up.