Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Board looks after around 32,000 properties including shrines and mosques across the union territory. Most of these properties have got the potential of generating a huge income but question marks have been raised in the past over their functioning. Onlookers have always cited the example of the revered Vaishno Devi shrine in the Jammu region. The management of the Vaishno Devi shrine has set up a hospital and university through donations received from the devotees. At the same time, the shrines in Kashmir too receive lots of donations but no similar efforts are visible in the Valley.
Now, the newly appointed body of the Waqf Board has promised to bring about major changes in its functioning. After being elected as the first woman chairperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Board, Dr. Darakhshan Andrabi said upgradation of the shrines of the union territory would remain her top priority. She said money donated to the Kashmir valley-based shrines would be utilized in setting up hospitals, guest houses, ‘langars’, and other facilities for the devotees. “Wakf belongs to the nation and its people. All shrines have been made on Waqf land and whatever the income it gets is called bait-ul-maal. This bait-ul-maal should be used to serve the poor and make hospitals. Setting up hospitals is the need of the hour. And there are no guest houses at our shrines. If you look at the shrines like Baba Reshi, Hazratbal, or Makhdoom Sahib, there are no such facilities. If a devotee wishes to stay overnight at the shrines, he or she has got no place to stay. There should have been a ‘langar’ in place at the shrines. If not for 24 hours, it should be functional for at least 12 hours. The shrines get a lot of income and it is our vision to set up such facilities. It should be the vision of all Kashmiris,” she stated recently. She regretted that to date such facilities had not been set up at the Kashmir valley based shrines while giving examples of the Vaishno Devi shrine in the Jammu region. “If a shrine can have school, there should be a hospital too. Unfortunately, some shrines do not even have toilet blocks despite having a lot of income,” she said.
At the same time, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha too echoed similar views. Expressing hope that the board, which now operates as per the Central Waqf Act, will bring ‘transparency in the administration of waqf properties and provide an enabling environment for utilization of properties for the larger benefit of the community, the lieutenant governor has urged the board to construct schools, colleges, ITIs, girls hostels, hospitals, multi-purpose community halls, ‘Hunar Haat’ and employment-oriented skill development centers. “I have been told that there are more than 32,000 registered waqf properties in J&K today. Many of these properties have the potential of generating considerable returns, which in turn could be used for the socio-economic development of the community”, Sinha added. Similarly, he said the ‘Waqf Board should sow the seeds of friendship and goodwill among communities through impactful social welfare initiatives aimed at bringing positive changes in the lives of ordinary citizens’.
The statements of the Lieutenant Governor and the new chairperson are welcome but these words need to be taken to their logical conclusion. In the past, similar promises have remained confined to paper only and people in Jammu and Kashmir will be hoping that the plans take a practical shape soon. To make the plans implementable, civil society too has to play a proactive role. Interestingly, the Waqf Board chairperson recently coordinated a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the business leaders of Jammu and Kashmir. The meeting was attended by the heads of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Inc), J&K Hoteliers Club, J&K Hotel & Restaurant Association, and Ph.D. Chamber of Commerce, Kashmir Chapter. The business delegation submitted a memorandum of demand to the prime minister. In the memorandum, several demands were put forward that included providing young entrepreneurs with space in the Auqaf markets. “Most of the young entrepreneurs want to do retail, service, online business for that we request the Government that the shopping malls like SDA, Auqaf Markets or any other market places should be given to youth on priority on a rental basis,” it said. In the past too, there were plans to open a chain of general stores next to religious shrines and start a clothing brand that would be available at nominal prices. There were also plans of giving interest-free loans to budding entrepreneurs, especially women in this regard. Besides coming up with its plans, the J&K Waqf can also take the suggestions of the business bodies besides the civil society so that effective use of its properties is made and that the funds are not misused. After all, the Waqf properties belong to the people and should be used for their welfare only. Also, the people of Kashmir by and large have great reverence for the Sufi shrines. Unfortunately, most of these shrines need major up-gradation and one can hope that the new board lives up to the expectations of the people.