The government is under fire for “weakening” the anti-corruption watchdog Lokayukta by creating an anti-corruption bureau.
The Siddaramiah government's continued refusal to table the 2012 report on the wakf land scam has hit the Congress party hard in Karnataka. The report was submitted to then chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda by Anwar Manippady, BJP leader and then chairman of the Karnataka State Minorities Commission.
The opposition alleged that the government was stalling because the report implicated senior Congress leaders, including ministers. The current row comes at a time when the government is under fire for “weakening” the anti-corruption watchdog Lokayukta by creating an anti-corruption bureau.
Karnataka has a bicameral legislature. The BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) have majority in the legislative council. On March 5, the government tabled a memorandum in the council, detailing action taken on the Manippady report. Council Chairman D.H. Shankaramurthy had repeatedly asked for the report to be tabled in full. When Shankaramurthy sought Governor Vajubhai Vala's opinion on the issue, he, too, expressed unhappiness over the report not being tabled.
JD(S) state president H.D. Kumaraswamy said, “Congress has always claimed to be the crusader of the minorities, but it has let them down by trying to save land-grabbers.”
The Congress had stopped the Sadananda Gowda government from tabling the report saying it had not been legally vetted. So, it was referred to a legal team. The BJP lost the next elections. Last year, Wakf Minister Qamarul Islam Saheb told the legislative council that the report was "unofficial" because it had no legal sanctity and no member of the commission member had given it their consent.
In October 2014, Kolar-based activist Tabrez Pasha had filed a complaint against Islam, alleging illegal acquisition and sale of wakf land in Gulbarga. The recent memorandum presented to the council came after S.K. Kanta, former minister and activist, filed a PIL before the Karnataka High Court. The government assured the court that the report would be tabled.
The formation of the anti-corruption bureau has further enraged the government's critics. “Can the government justify how the ACB is more effective than the Lokayukta Act, 1984, which has the power to investigate the chief minister, ministers, legislators and government employees?” asked activist S.R. Hiremath.
Congress leader B.L. Shankar said “the Manippady report is not a report”. He said, “As chairman of the Minorities Commission, Manippady suo motu conducted raids, but has not furnished enough evidence. It is a gross exaggeration that the wakf scam is as huge as 015 lakh crore. Unlike previous anti-encroachment panels, Manippady’s was not an inquiry report. So, the government tabled only the gist of the recommendations.”
Manippady said that Sections 10(1-2) of the Karnataka State Minorities Commission Act, 1994, authorises the Minorities Commission chairman to “make recommendations from time to time to the government, which is to be tabled in both houses of the legislature”. “The Congress is clearly under pressure and non-tabling is an admission of guilt," he said.
Manipaddy said he first conducted raids in Bidar district, after hearing complaints about encroachments on a graveyard. “[After this,] complaints started flowing in from all districts and we started the raids. I have four volumes of evidence and documents, which can implicate senior members of the Congress,” he said.
Elaborating on the scam, Manipaddy said mutuvalis (managers) of wakf properties and politicians were hand in glove. “The state has 54,000 acres of registered wakf land; 23,000 acres is unregistered (as mosques fear the land will be embezzled). But, wakf lands are shrinking with each survey. The current scam is worth Rs 2 lakh crore, if we go by the guidance value of the encroached land. But, the market value is Rs 15 lakh crore.”
"The mutuvali enters into an understanding with the Wakf Board and procures an NOC to sell the land,” said Manipaddy. “The land is sold to a benami and enjoyed by all. Sometimes, it is sold to a third party and the profits are shared. In some cases, the Wakf Board and minorities minister de-notify the land and sell it. If caught, they take back the land from the buyer. A rampant practice is to lease out prime land for peanuts....”
G. Madhusudan, former chairman of the privileges committee, said, “A syndicate of minority leaders has held on to the three important posts—wakf minister, Wakf Board chairman and the Minorities Commission chairman— which resulted in the scam remaining unreported despite wakf land shrinking with each gazette notification. The Congress government is bluffing.”
Shankar's hunch is that the report could contain names of “leaders across political parties, who have built educational institutions on government land”. He wants such encroachments to be tried in the special court that hears encroachments on government land. Wakf, gomaal (pastures) and muzrai (temple) lands, too, come under its purview. Wakf is the third largest landholder in India, after railways and the defence forces. But, less than 2 per cent of land is utilised for the development of the community.
A Congress leader, who is a Muslim, said that encroachers on wakf land ranged from “politicians to influential people to the common man”. “Unless, the amendments to the Wakf Act, creation of wakf development councils with non-political appointees and revision of rentals for wakf property (not less than 5 per cent of the market value) are implemented, the community will continue to be at the mercy of the government,” the politician said.
Interestingly, recommendations of earlier commissions probing wakf land encroachments are gathering dust. Examples being the joint house panel headed by A.T. Ramaswamy, the task force headed by V. Balasubramanian and the report by Upa Lokayukta Justice N. Anand. Syed Nisar Ahmed, retired district and sessions judge and former commissioner probing wakf land encroachments, said, “The objective of the government is only to appoint commissions and not to implement any report.”
Shankar says the absence of recent surveys, GIS mapping and documentation of wakf properties makes encroachments easy. “We still follow the British maps as no survey of government lands was carried out after 1930,” he said.
Manippady is hoping for a resurvey of wakf lands. But, he has another imminent worry—threat calls. And, his police detail was withdrawn when the Congress came to power.