Wealth of Faith

Religious endowments and various Trusts managing them for the people of different faiths often function as autocratic systems. But as Hussain Danish reports, some are much better managed than others for the betterment of people in general.

In Jammu and Kashmir various Trusts and Boards set up for taking care of both the Hindu and the Muslim places of worship and pilgrimage have been in existence for long. However, an examination of their functioning over the decades shows that the popular Hindu trusts/boards have excelled much beyond just managing socio-economic development while politics and mismanagement have rusted their older Muslim counterparts.

Over the years the Hindu trusts, like the Vishno Devi shrine board and Dharmartha trust, have gone on to establish universities, colleges, hospitals and a better overall system of facilities for pilgrims and devotees. But the achievements of Muslim trusts, predominantly the Waqf Board—the oldest trust in Jammu and Kashmir, have been dismal.

In fact, the very management of the shrines, Masjids and affiliated properties entrusted in the care of the Waqf is yet to come up to the expected standards or services despite its enormous property base of over Rs 2000 crore. While hospitals have never been on the Waqf agenda the recently established institutions are struggling to survive.

Hindu Trusts

The Hindu trusts in the state are meant for the maintenance and development of the temples and temple-properties. The oldest of them all is the Dharmartha Trust while the latest Vaishno Devi trust has now been converted into Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (VDSB).  The others include the likes of Pratap Sabha and the Chinar trust.

However, besides a well-organized system for management and hospitality of the religious-tourists, the trusts have to their credit a “highly technical and fully residential” university, a first of its kind cancer hospital in the state and a couple of colleges.

Conceived and established in 1986 under Jammu and Kashmir Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Act, the VDSB has gone beyond what its constitution initially mandated – “Better management and governance of the Holy Shrine and its endowments including the appurtenant lands and buildings.”

The board is primarily meant for management of the Yatra (annual pilgrimage to Shir Mata Vishno Devi Shrine located in the south of Kashmir) and the overall governance and administration of the Shrine.

Prior to the shrine board, the management of the Shrine was entrusted with Dharamarth Trust and a group of traditional local residents called Baridars (so called because they collected their offerings as per their turn- bari). Officially, the takeover was necessitated considering a poor state of management and absence of facilities for the pilgrims.

While the offerings were pocketed by the Baridars, according to the official website of the board, the other income including rentals and royalties were taken by the trust. However, there were very few facilities for the Yatries, it says, adding the pilgrims who reached the town of Katra from all over India with devotion and faith in their hearts were often met with all kinds of hardships, insensitivity and mismanagement.

The Governor of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is the ex-officio Chairman of the Board. He nominates nine members to the Board at the policy making level. The Board discharges its duty through a Chief Executive Officer who is assisted by the Additional Chief Executive Officer, Area Heads and Functional Heads.

In two decades the board, managing one of the wealthiest and most visited temples, has evolved as the richest in India with an annual income of more than Rs 600 crore and the annual influx of pilgrims estimated to rise to 84 Lakh by 2015.

It has succeeded in offering better facilities to pilgrims. For instance, the shrine board has constructed shelter sheds at every 500 meters along the track to Vaishno Devi.  Named Vishram sithals (rest rooms), the sheds protect pilgrims against adverse weather conditions like shooting stones, rain, harsh sun or snow.

Beyond management of the pilgrimage the board has come up with a Rs 200 crore University at Kakrial near the town of Katra in Jammu’s Reasi district and a Rs 250 crore cancer hospital project is underway.  While the university is the only Hindu University in the state, the cancer hospital is the first of its kind specialized hospital.

The Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University (SMVDU) has been established under the Jammu and Kashmir state Shri Mata Vishno Devi University Act 1999. It is located on Trikuta hills.

The University, fully funded by the shrine board, is offering post and under graduate courses in management, engineering, science, humanities and social sciences. It has already produced its first batch of graduates.

The foundation of the first phase of the cancer hospital was laid in 2004. It envisaged a 134-beded super-specialty hospital for treatment of cancer, 20 beds for non-cancer and 30 beds for ambulatory care. Tipped to be the first of its kind in north India, it would have one million square feet of built area, at par with PGI Chandigarh. The final phase includes medical education and research wing that would be part of the University.

The hospital complex has been designed in a way that the track to the Bhawan will be in sight from any point. For the requirement of attendants, a huge motel is also coming up with 140 rooms in the first phase. This is besides the essential requirements for the medical staff. The blueprint of the project envisages a lake (Vaishno Sarovar) as well.

Whilst Vishno Devi shrine board is concerned with the overall management of the shrine year round, the simultaneously working Amarnath Shrine Board looks after the annual pilgrimage to a cave shrine in the Kashmir Himalayas. It makes available registration facilities, accommodation, food and transport to the pilgrims.

Constituted in year 2000 and reframed in 2008 after the Amarnath land row, the board is to arrange for the proper performance of worship at the Holy Shrine and imparting instructions to pilgrims.

It also makes arrangements for the safe custody of valuables and jewelry and for the preservation of the Board Fund. Developmental activities concerning the areas of the shrine and its surroundings are undertaken by it and provision made for the payment of suitable emoluments to the salaried staff. For the benefit of worshippers and pilgrims construction of buildings for their accommodation, the construction of sanitary works and improvement of means of communication and provision of medical relief is also taken care of by the board.

Given that the number of pilgrims visiting the cave shrine has undergone an exponential increase, the board has surely lived up to the task. As an example, it has started a system of pilgrims’ online booking on its official website, which also keeps pilgrims abreast with the latest developments, events and suggestions.

For a more facilitated yatra, however, it envisages to undertake projects for barbed wire fencing with searchlights at each camping site along the treacherous mountainous route.

Basic amenities like toilets and shelters with benches have been provided at intervals of 2-3 Kms besides facilities for first aid, eateries, medical help at each camping site and a helicopter service from the Base Camps to Panjtarni (about 6 Kms from the Holy Cave).

The Dharmartha Trust, headed by Dr Karan Singh, is the oldest among the Hindu trusts. Presently it is maintaining 102 temples, including some of the famous ones like Raghunath temple Jammu and Shankar Acharya temple Kashmir, in the State as well as outside. The Dharmartha Trust was also managing the Vishno Devi shrine prior to the constitution of the shrine board. Few other temples like the one in Tulmula have also been taken over by it.

Besides temple management, the trust, which looked after the temples of Kashmir at the peak of militancy, has worked for the promotion of the Sanskrit language.

A College by the name of Shri Raghunath Sanskrit Mahavidalaya has been established at Birpur, Jammu, which provides free education, boarding and lodging facilities to students. Merit scholarships are given to Societies and Individuals for promotion of the Hindu religion.

The trust has an annual income of around Rs 10-20 lakh, says the secretary of the trust R L Ban. “The number of temples managed by us has decreased over the years because of the merger of some of them with other sansthas (organizations). We get almost as much donations as our expenditure,” Ban says.

come down to about 100. “We have Pujaris, sweepers, gardeners and other essential staff individually for each temple. Their salary comes directly from the trust. Since the management workload has come down, the manpower has been trimmed proportionately,” Ban explains.

The trust has several Pathshalas and sewing centers running in Jammu region. It has established buildings outside the temples for devotees’ lodging.

“We have, for instance, dormitories with a cumulative capacity to accommodate 4000 to 5000 people. Similarly, we have lodgings with more than 50 rooms for devotees and pilgrims,” Ban says.
Another college by the name Sidra College has been established by another “rich” trust, the Pratap Sabha in Jammu.

Muslim Trusts

The Muslim Auqaf Trust has been looking after a majority of Muslim shrines and Masjids in the state. It was established by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1930 for caretaking of the shrines and their associated properties, and for utilization of the income from the shrines in the socio-economic development of the state.

However, during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led coalition government in 2003, an ordinance promulgated by the governor and later by an act of the legislature converted the trust into Waqf Board. And, with it the entire management of the shrines and the assets of the trust came under the direct control of the state government, though the trust was not dissolved.

The board has immovable assets worth Rs 2000 crore including around 1400 shops across Kashmir, many commercial buildings including Suleman Complex Dalgate, Boulevard Complex, Hazratbal Complex, Taj Hotel – Lal Chowk, Gulmarg Hotel and the Srinagar Municipal Building. Besides, 91 shrines and 2100 kanals of orchard land associated with these shrines also come under its purview.

However, for a body as old as the Waqf, the annual income is wobbling between Rs 10 to 15 crore of which nearly 70 percent goes into paying salaries to its now more than 1000 employees. Ironically, its main income source has been donations instead of revenue from the property.

Waqf owns 85435.19 Kanals in the state. Of that 1013.07 Kanals are in the Jammu region, generating annual revenue of just Rs 78,88,950.

The statistics reveal an inefficient management of the property.

Waqf has around 3 godowns in Daira Sher Shah in Jammu district that generate revenue of Rs 1, 92, 000 annually. However, 35 open spaces, six Khokhas, one Hotel and  five houses at the same location generate no profit for “rent was not revised since April 2003.”

Similarly, rent has not been revised since 2003 for six shops, 15 houses and two open spaces located around Masjid Ahmadiya Peer Mitha in Jammu. Mohalla Jallalian at Jammu has 15 houses of Waqf property that fetch not a penny for the Waqf. There are also other instances where its property generates meager or no revenue.

A mango orchard spread on more than three kanals at Bruj Khada in Jammu only generates annual revenue of Rs 350, Sixteen Kanals and 18 Marlas of agricultural land bring in just Rs 1700 per year and 55 Kanals of agricultural land at Gho Manhasan at Jammu generates no revenue at all.

Over the years a large chunk of the Waqf property has been encroached upon by either government departments or local residents.

In Dhatrayal block in Marh Tehsil of Jammu, Sericulture Department has planted mulberry trees on 25 Kanals, 13 Marlas of Waqf land. At Banchyal block Marh Tehsil in Jammu a public health center and a Panchayat Garh have come up on the 39 Kanals 12 Marlas of Waqf land.

The locals also have encroached upon a significant portion. In Mera Jagir Tehsil Akhnoor 65 Kanals of graveyard belonging to Waqf have been occupied by PWD. Locals have also started illegal construction on the graveyard, and police have captured 132 Kanals at Makhan Pur Gujjran Tehsil in R S Pura Jammu. The locals have not encroached upon the land here but only four kanals are left for burials. In village Badewal Tehsil in Akhnoor 78 Kanals 13 Marlas of agriculture land have been occupied by a local resident, Pritam Das.

In Kashmir the Waqf owns more than 1223 kanals in the form of graveyards, mosques, Ziarats, Eidgahs and agricultural land besides, 165 buildings, 1436 shops, 1395 rooms, 86 apartments (sets), 76 Tehi Zameeni, 13 gowdowns, 31 showrooms, 48 halls, five houses and 18 sheds also belong to the board.

While there are no comprehensive records of the revenue generated from this vast expanse of the property, the situation looks no different than in the summer capital Srinagar.

Most shopkeepers occupying Waqf shops, including those located in prime markets like Lal Chowk, pay a meager Rs 250-300 as monthly rent.

The shops in the Taj Hotel near Ganta Ghar in the commercial heart of city pay an average Rs 300 rent per month per shop. And, a multi-storey building in prized Karan Nagar area is rented to Geology and Mining Department on annual charges of Rs 3500.

“Yet the amount has not been recovered for several years,” Waqf insiders revealed. “In fact, the income in the form of donations received at most shrines exceed the revenue generated from 1400 shops.”

The building housing Gulmarg Hotel at Boulevard was gutted in a fire incident recently. Later, according to sources inside the Waqf Board, “it was leased out to an influential candidate for five years through a politically motivated deal.”

“Initially, the Waqf sought applications from candidates interested in the deal. But later the deal was fixed with an influential candidate who was not among the applicants.” thses sources said.

A major portion of the Waqf property has been encroached upon, but the loss goes unnoticed in absence of its proper management and records.

The body, for instance, owns 98 Kanal and 10 marla land at Keli Mandi in Tehsil Samba in Jammu region. According to the revenue records, the Zila Sainik Board, Samba, has grabbed 16 Kanal area of it, the Education Department has constructed the zonal education office on seven marlas and another 16 kanals have been encroached upon by the villagers.

The land grabbing case of a big apple orchard in Asham (Sonawari) in north Kashmir was a big jolt to the Board. The 692.7 Kanals apple orchard had been contributed by a Kashmiri who migrated to Muzaffarabad in 1947. Till the onset of militancy, the Muslim Auqaf Trust was managing the entire orchard and its income was being used for Madeena-tul-Aloom, a Quranic school at Hazratbal. However, after militancy started, it was allegedly grabbed by a top militant outfit. Later, it was shared by two other outfits and after that a counter-insurgent outfit took possession of this orchard. The land was recovered after the death of a top counter insurgent.

The only institution Waqf is credited with is the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) located in Awantipora. But the varsity too is struggling to survive due to lack of funds and under developed infrastructure.

“Academically we are pretty sound, but infrastructure-wise the varsity is still in infancy. IUST offers Btech course for example, but we do not have sufficiently developed laboratories for running the course. Many a time, the students have to contend with equipments of lesser quality, grade or standard,” sources in the varsity say. “Same is true for many other courses like those in food technology.”

The University came into existence during the previous PDP-Congress government. And, as an obvious response, the existing NC-led government is not showing much interest in its upliftment. Until recently the employees of the varsity were not getting salaries on time.

“We are using the fees paid by students for salaries to employees,” sources say. “There have been instances when we had to wait for as many as five months for salary.”

The morale of the teaching faculty of IUST is down and they are constantly looking for other avenues of employment. “Almost the entire faculty of the varsity appeared in KAS examination in 2009 only because they were not getting salaries on time for dearth of funds,” said an ex-employee of IUST.

The Waqf Board was also running schools for education of the destitute families. However, as on date none of the schools have attained a place of prominence in the society due to lack of interest taken in their up-gradation.

“We got Rs 67 crore sanctioned under a scheme from the Government of India for up-gradation of the schools. But it was not followed up with the required paper work. As a result the project was discontinued,” said Nayeem Akhter, former CEO of Waqf Board.

Since the idea of Auqaf was Sheikh Abdullah’s conception, National Conference has had a natural control over it and its existing avatar, the Waqf Board. In 1953 Sheikh Abdullah headed it, but it went into the hands of Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad as he came to power.

Subsequently, the power went into the hands of son Dr Farooq Abdullah until Auqaf was converted into Waqf Board and brought under the direct control of the state government.

The employee base of the board has swelled from 700 to over 1000 at present—almost 400 more than the prescribed number. However, almost all of them are directly or indirectly the loyalists of NC. In fact the even destitute who benefited monetarily from the board also come with a loyalist’s tag. A widely held belief exists that Waqf is the force behind NC electoral victory in Srinagar.

“Under Monde (widow) Fund the wives of deceased NC loyalists get a handsome amount every month. Also, the ‘freedom fighter’ fund is distributed among a large number of senior citizens who sided with NC in revolt against the Maharaja. All these people form a large population and they are the first ones to come out to vote during elections,” said a senior citizen Noor Muhammad. “It works well especially when there is a boycott call from separatists.”

The Waqf Board does not have a proper recruitment policy either. For instance a Moazin, according to the insiders, is paid between Rs 2500 to Rs 1500 without any proper system in place.  “The same is true with Imams, Mutawali’s and other employees of Waqf.”

The system of management for the shrines has also not shown any substantial development and is criticized by most non-NC supporters. For instance, every year lakhs of people offer congregational prayers at Dargah Hazratbal on Eid and similar other occasions. Yet the Waqf with all its income and resources has not been able to multiply, or even broaden, the entrances to prevent jostling. In fact, the lawn towards the westside of the shrine, popularly called Gilase Bagh, is yet to be developed completely.

Until recently, the Dastegeer Sahib (RA) shrine at Khanyar was without a sufficient Masjid despite its high demand. On Urs (the annual festival at the shrines), the people had to offer Namaz on the main roads, causing disruption in traffic besides the obvious inconvenience to the devotees themselves.

Even the ambulances provided at many shrines are not purchased by the Board. They were actually donated by a single millionaire shortly after the conversion of Auqaf into Waqf Board.

The Waqf has not even been able to create and maintain a website for the information and awareness. Now after so many years, the authorities are thinking of making one. “We are collecting material for it,” said M Y Qadri, the deputy chairman of the Board.

Is there a need for Trusts’ decentralization?

With the fall of the former coalition, the Waqf Board was once again politicized. Though the changes brought about by the ordinance were not undone, politicians were placed in the positions that were supposed to be run apolitically.

The Waqf does not produce any income and expenditure report annually. In fact, it has no records of its assets and the land that has been encroached upon.

Similarly, the Hindu trusts, like the Vishno Devi Trust, are also not bound to be transparent or accountable to anyone in their dealings. The annual income from donations and the expenses have never been listed anywhere.

The Kashmir Pandit Sanghirsh Smiti (KPSS), an organization of Pandits living in Kashmir, has been vigorously pursuing development of the Hindu trusts on the Waqf lines.

“The trusts are leasing the land to private operators at runaway prices, which is our loss of heritage. Besides, there are no Kashmiri Pandits at key positions in the trusts because they are privately owned. The government should institutionalize the trusts so that there is some accountability and system,” said Sanjay Tikoo, convener KPSS.

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