Punjab Wakf Board opposes move to ban leasing of Islamic burial grounds

The Punjab Wakf Board, which is the custodian of a large number of mosques and related properties, has opposed government’s move to prevent the leasing of land under Wakf boards.

The board, in a memorandum to the central government, has opposed a law currently under the consideration of the parliament. If passed, the law will prohibit Wakf boards from leasing religious land, such as traditional cemeteries, to others.

The State Wakf Boards, especially, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi have leased out thousands of acres of land of unused and abandoned wakf graveyards for cultivation since last many years, to save such waqf lands from encroachments and to increase income of Wakf Boards.

The Government has brought the new law to prevent what is seen as widespread misuse and alienation of Wakf land, sometimes with the knowledge and concurrence of less-than-honest Wakf trustees. Allegations have been raised that Wakf land is being leased to private parties who eventually end up capturing them.

The government has therefore proposed an amendment in Section 51 of the Wakf Act, 1995, to ensure that no graveyard wakf land can be leased out or exchanged by the Wakf Boards. 

However, the Pubjab Wakf Board has opposed the move. It said that leasing of Wakf land, instead of encouraging encroachment and alienation, actually discourages it. It told the government that such land is more likely to be encroached on if left unutilized.

“Only abandoned and unused lands of wakf graveyards, with no trace of graves, already under occupation, or threat, thereof, are leased out to save such wakf lands from encroachments and to generate revenue, with the conditions that whenever graveyards land is required for burial, it would be retrieved back by the Board,” it said.

It said that those who say that leasing of old burial grounds is UnIslamic are wrong, and that such a move is not against the religion.

“The State Wakf Boards of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan never lease out running graveyards.A part of even such unused graveyards land is reserved for burial purposes with boundary walls, if required. The leasing of Wakf graveyard or development of abandoned wakf graveyard (especially in urban areas) is not un-Islamic,” it said in its memorandum.

The Board, however, asked the government to amend the Act in such a way that sale of such land, currently permitted, is not allowed any more.

The move to amend the 1995 Wakf Act was initiated in 2010 and it was passed in the Lok Sabha in the same year. The amendment bill has already been examined by a select committee  of the Rajya Sabha.

“The recommendations of the Select Committee were examined in the Ministry of Minority Affairs in consultation with the Ministry of Law and Justice and based on this, draft official amendments have been prepared by the Ministry of Law & Justice. The Bill is in the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passing. The amendments proposed by the Punjab Wakf Board are being examined,” the government said.