Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

Jamadi Awwal 1424 H
July 2003
Volume 16-07 No : 199

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Heritage


Tampering with the Taj
Waqf Board Chairman Removed

Tampering with the Taj

Environmental conservationists are decrying the 'scandalous' decision of the UP government to
fill up the river bed behind the Taj for building a shopping complex

By A Staff Writer

Imagine a shopping mall as the backdrop of the Taj Mahal instead of the picturesque Yamuna. Is this an architectural nightmare? No, this could soon be the ugly reality. The Uttar Pradesh government has started the construction of the Heritage Corridor on the banks of the Yamuna, behind the monument.

The UP government has decided to fill up the river bed behind the Taj in order to build a shopping complex, the work for which has already begun. The Central and the State government have sanctioned Rs 175 crore for the construction of the Taj Heritage Corridor, even as environmental conservationists are decrying the 'scandalous' nature of the project. The state government's grandiose project to link Agra's important monuments - Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Ram Bagh, and Chinni-Ka-Roza - is supposed to allow tourists to visit these monuments without entering Agra. The mall is a part of that project. The Central Pollution Control Board has sent an angry memo to the Ministry of Environment warning them of serious consequences if attempts are made to interfere with the flow of the Yamuna. "The filling up of the river bed will affect the natural flow of the river as well as the natural flood plain," warns B Sengupta, member secretary, CPCB, in a letter dated April 2, 2003.

The construction work began last November under the aegis of the National Project Construction Corporation (NPCC) without any environmental assessment of its impact on the Taj. Says M. C. Mehta, activist lawyer: "This is a huge scam. After all, what does a mall consist of other than restaurants, discos, cabarets? Are our historic monuments going to be put to such use?" he asks. Nalini Thakur, HoD, Conservation, School of Planning and Architecture, concurs: "The Taj is a world heritage site and is governed by the UNESCO convention which clearly spells out the need for a proper management plan prepared by specialists. How can they start work without understanding the basics of river hydrology? The Archaeological Survey of India should have ensured that all departments accepted this plan before it was implemented."

The UP government has simply handed over the project to a Delhi-based company called Consulting Architects Planners Services (CAPS). Sources within NPCC allege that CAPS has already received an advance of Rs 1.6 crore of the total Rs 4.25 crore being paid for executing this project. The NPCC is also reported to have paid Rs 17 crore to a Delhi-based construction company, Ishvakoo (India) Pvt. Ltd, for removing the sand.

Defending the work, NPCC chairman S.C. Bali says, "All our drawings have been approved by IIT Roorkee." The six-member Roorkee team has in their notings declared "the plans supplied (to them) are smudged, no monuments can be made out on them."

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Waqf Board Chairman Removed

Karnataka Waqf Board chairman Khalid Ahmed is ordered to be removed after a protracted legal battle.
His tenure is marked by murky financial ongoings.

Bangalore: Curtains came down on a protracted legal battle for the removal of the Chairman of the Karnataka Board of Waqfs on June 21 when the Karnataka Government ordered Mr. Khalid Ahmed to be stripped of his chairmanship. Mr. Ahmad was the first elected chairman of the Board and remained in office for five months short of the designated tenure of five years.

Mr. Ahmedís election to the post in 1998 became controversial after it was challenged in a court arguing that his membership of certain waqf institutions - a prerequisite for Waqf Board membership - was fictitious and obtained for the express purpose of getting elected to the Board. The Karnataka High Court invalidated his election on June 1, 2001. But Mr. Ahmad obtained a stay from the Supreme Court which directed the Karnataka Government to initiate action in the light of the legal procedure. The order for the removal from the chairmanship were issued by the Law Department on June 21. However, he will continue to be the member of the 11-member Board.

Several irregularities were noted in the Wakf Board accounts during Mr. Ahmadís tenure. Huge amounts released as grants from the Karnataka Government were kept in non-scheduled banks and were not reclaimed after the maturity period. Curiously, several credit and investment societies were also favoured with investments or deposits which the Wakf Board is not supposed to keep there. According to a copy of the Audit Report of the Karnataka Waqf Board for the year 1999-2001 available to Islamic Voice, the Board deposited Rs. 10.79 lakhs in Millath Coop. Bank of Davangere, nearly Rs. 40 lakh (the numerals are vaguely legible) in Al-Iqra Credit Coop. Society at Davangere, Rs. 57 lakh in Bangalore Mercantile Coop. Bank at Shivajinagar and two more amounts of Rs. 6 lakh and 19 lakh in two more financial institutions (names are illegible) and were not claimed with interest even after the maturity of the certificates of deposits.

The Audit Report indicts the previous Chief Executive Officer (i.e., Maaz Ahmed Shariff) alongwith the present incumbent (i.e., Noor Mohammad Pannali who was transferred elsewhere last month) for not taking any result- oriented action in order to reclaim the money with interest. The report also indicts the Board for parking the funds away from the headquarters (i.e., Bangalore) and castigates the Board for keeping the funds in investment and credit societies. It directed the State Government to take proper administrative action against the two CEOs on several counts.

It may be recalled that the wife of a former CEO was director at the Bangalore Mercantile Coop Bank where huge funds of the Waqf Board were parked and were not claimed back. The Bank has since then been a sick institution with the Government having appointed a receiver. Similarly, the Davangere based credit coop. society where Wakf Board funds were deposited, is headed by a former chairman of the Karnataka State Minorities Commission with close political links within the Congress dispensation.

The post of Waqf Board chairman became an elected post following the passing of the new Central Waqf Act by the Parliament. However, the saga of Khalid Ahmad is index enough that politicians can bend rules, secure memberships through fictitious means and ascend to the top and still corrupt the institution meant for the management of properties dedicated for pious purposes.

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