About renting commercial space in Kashmir

Hiring a shop at monthly rent of less than Rs 100 in Srinagar sounds unbelievable but the J&K Muslim Wakf Board has let out its properties here on the paltry amount of Rs 80 for a month.

According to official details, the Wakf-owned properties including shops have been rented out even at nominal charges of Rs 292. 50 and Rs 332 per-month around the commercial hub of Lal Chowk while the rent is Rs 100, Rs 125.66 and Rs 80 in some areas of the summer capital.

These instances show how the Wakf Board—the body entrusted with custody of Muslim properties and shrines in Kashmir –has under-utilized the vast assets lying with it.

Established in 1940 by NC founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah as Muslim Auqaf Trust to help the needy and down-trodden sections of Muslims of the State, the Board has miserably failed in its objective primarily due to its failure to generate adequate revenue from its prized assets.

In 2003, the PDP-led coalition took control of the assets of the Muslim Auqaf Trust and rechristened it as J&K Muslim Wakf Board. However, this didn’t improve financial health of the institution as its revenue generation still remains low.

The Wakf Board owns nearly 1300-1400 shops with 1000 alone in Srinagar, besides several thousand kanals of land in the region. The institution also owns two hotels in the City including hotel Taj and hotel Gulmarg.

A cursory look at 2014-15 financial statement of the Board shows that shops and other commercial establishments just generate Rs 2.44 crore annually. These commercial establishments otherwise have the potential to fetch Rs 15-20 crore annually.

The rent of the 51-room hotel Taj located in heart of the City is Rs 3.45 lakh for a year.

Worse, many of the licensees (to whom 11-month license is granted for shops ) are not paying the paltry rent charges.

A senior official in the Wakf Board said Rs five crore are outstanding against the licensees on account of the rent. “Many of them don’t pay the nominal rent,” he said.

Sources said the Board had hired a private firm in 2005 to evaluate rental value of its properties and shops in Srinagar. However, suggestions made by the firm for enhancing the rent were never implemented on the ground.

An official committee constituted by Chief Minister’s office in 2012 to look into the administrative and financial mess of the Board, had pointed out that “uninterrupted nomination of members with commercial interests in Wakf properties has been inimical to the economical and financial health of the institution.”

Its report stated that a member of the Board had allotted a shop at Boulevard Complex to one of his relatives with a special incentive. “The allottee has been allowed 25 percent rebate on rent at the annual rate of Rs 2700 from 1984-88 without assigning any reason,” the report states.

“The file doesn’t show this rebate having been approved by the competent authority of Muslim Auqaf Trust (MAT). This has happened at a time when the relative of the allottee has not only been one of the trustees but has also been holding an important office.” Without naming the member, the panel states that he has been the only “main-deck in thwarting” the attempts of the Board to increase the rent of Wakf assets.

On the other hand, the income generated by Wakf  from its prized land is also meager.

In 2014-15, its income from agricultural land was  Rs 66 lakh , the Board’s financial statement reveals.

The 2012 committee report had also revealed that Wakf land at several places was allotted through widespread official inaccuracies. The panel had recommended “criminal investigation” into “counterfeit leasing” of prized land systematically to relatives of mainstream politicians on cheap prices by executives of the J&K Muslim Wakf Board.

When contacted, Vice- Chairman Wakf Board Peer Muhammad Hussain said the revenue generated by the Board from its properties is meager. “The rental charges of Wakf properties are low as compared to other commercial establishments here,” he said. “We have decided to increase the rent as per the evaluation carried out by a private firm recently but some people are creating roadblocks in our efforts”.

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