Waqf not receiving rent on its properties since 2015
Srinagar: The J&K Muslim Waqf Board has not been receiving rent on its properties ever since it hiked the rates in December 2015. Calling the hike exorbitant and unjustified, tenants stopped paying rent and took the matter to court, where it lies, affecting the salaries of the Waqf Board’s 1100 employees and all the work of the charitable trust.
Created in 1940 by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah as Muslim Auqaf Trust, it was rechristened in its present form by the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed led PDP-Congress government in 2005 as J&K Muslim Waqf Board.
The aim of the institution is to help the needy among the Muslims of the state.
An official of the Board said that the Waqf currently owns about 1400 shops, besides agriculture land, hotel and other buildings.
“J&K Muslim Waqf Board has 1100 employees at present,” informed the Secretary of the Board, Muhammad Rafiq. “The pay to employees, which is meagre, is paid from the revenue generated from the property owned by the board, besides the revenue which comes from shrines across J&K.”
Rafiq revealed that the Board pays around Rs 14 crore as pay to its employees annually. “It is tough to balance the income and expenditure,” he said. “In order to make the board independent, we revised the rent rates in 2015.”
In December 2015, as soon as the Waqf Board made public its notification of the new rates, the tenants (mostly traders) protested against the “unilateral move”.
“There is an agreement between tenants and the Waqf Board which says that the rent rates would be revised after every three years,” said trade union leader Mohammad Yasin Khan. “It had been smoothly happening for the past 21 years and rates were being increased at 15% each time.”
“In December 2015, however, the Waqf Board increased the rent rates by 6000%, which was unjust,” Khan said.
The traders demanded rolling back of the order but the Board remained adamant.
“We had hired a consultancy which revised the rates. There were parameters on which the rates were revised,” said the Board secretary.
He said that the new rates were finalised keeping in view the location, market value and condition of Waqf buildings. “It was for the first time that scientific measures were implemented to measure the value of rates for shops,” he claimed.
Since the new rates were implemented, the traders stopped paying rent. “The revenue generation was scuttled as rents stopped coming,” said Rafiq. “Besides, the 2016 ground situation impacted the revenue of shrines.”
However, traders remained defiant. “We will pay rents but at what rate?” asked Khan, president of Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Forum (KTMF).
The traders took the case to a Srinagar court. Initially the court refused to accept the petition but later stayed the Waqf Board order.
“The case is sub judice now,” Khan informed.
Waqf board officials said that almost 80% of the tenants have not been paying the rent. “If the tenants would have paid rent according to new rates, there would have been increase of Rs 4 crore in total annual revenue,” Rafiq said.
“The Board would have become economically strong and we could have started development work,” he added.
But traders said that the Board’s new rates were “totally against the laid down laws”.
“We have told the court that traders, who are 1400 in number, will pay rent not according to the new rates but according to the Rent Act of J&K State,” the KTMF president said.
In March this year, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired the 24th meeting of the Waqf’s Board of Governors. “We put forward our point of view and a seven-member committee was formed to review the December 2015 order. The committee met five times and visited the Board properties as well,” said Rafiq. “A comparative assessment with non-Waqf property was also done. Now we have asked all the aggrieved traders to put forward their grievances before the committee and members of civil society, too, can come forward in the negotiations.”
He said that the committee will be submitting its report before the 25th meeting of the Board of Governors in September.
“We have properties at Dalgate, Zero Bridge, Boulevard, Nowhatta, Hazratbal, Fateh Kadal, Kailashpora, Khayam Chowk, Soura and the rent is meagre: Rs 500 or Rs 300,” he said.
“The income which is generated from the resources is for the collective good of society,” he said. “Wakf board is a community institution. It is social in character and has no support from the government. But people see it as a “sarkari (government) institution.”
The president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, said that a committee without the representation of all stakeholders is not beneficial. “We also met the CM, who directed the Board to include members of trade in the committee, but nothing was done. Today we saw a notice inviting us for the meeting,” he told Kashmir Reader.
He said that the traders will be meeting and “we will see what to do next”.