In the absence of chairpersons, the institutions are left with no public face to articulate the issues of minority communities.
New Delhi: Minority institutions, both under the Delhi government and the Centre, have been functioning without formal heads for many months now. The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), the Delhi Minorities Commission, the Delhi Waqf Board, the Hajj Committee of India and the Delhi state Hajj Committee, have all been functioning without chairpersons.
This means that they have no one to oversee staff activity or to publicly articulate the issues faced by minority communities.
The Hajj Committee of India as well as the NCM, both of which come under the Central government have not had chairpersons since June this year. While the Hajj Committee of India’s previous chairperson was Shaikh Jina Nabi from May 25, 2019, to June 8, 2020, the NCM’s previous chairperson, Syed Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi stepped down about two months ago.
What’s the fuss?
A former senior member of the Delhi Minorities Commission told The Wire anonymously, “I personally know that the government delays these selections on purpose every time because they don’t want the fears and issues of the minorities to come out in public. A chairperson, as per his or her duty, must raise their voice against any injustices being done to the minority community and work towards its betterment.”
Referring to the recent lynching case in Gurgaon where a man was thrashed on suspicion of carrying beef and the Delhi riots in February, he added, “Riots have just happened in Delhi; mob lynching of Muslims is also common nowadays. Who will voice the problems of the community if not the chairpersons and other members of these institutions? The easiest way to stop this is to delay the process for as long as possible. It is a deliberate attempt to systematically silence minorities. Or bring in people as chairpersons who will never question them.”
These institutions, which derive sanction from the constitution, were formed to address specific challenges and problems faced by the minority communities in India – including Muslims, Sikhs, Parsi, Jains, Christians and Buddhists. Muslims are the largest minority group in India forming 14% of the total population.
Many say that the power vested in these institutions is minimal and not enough to bring about any real change. For instance, many of these institutions have statutory powers and not constitutional ones, which means that they don’t have power to summon people or hold people accountable legally. In comparison and as an example, the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, seeks to safeguard SCs and STs by holding those causing harm to them legally accountable.
But the problem with these bodies is not one of vacant positions alone. Even when they are filled, they can remain comatose because of the persons selected. A member of the Delhi Waqf Board told The Wire, “We must always doubt the credibility of chairpersons of these institutions because of their political affiliations.”
He said many of them of settle personal scores, extract money, hand over property to their favourites, and are “political slaves” to parties. He added, “The members sometimes even have criminal records, and most people who are brought into these institutions are inefficient, uneducated, unmotivated and corrupt.”
He suggested that the government must strengthen the legal architecture of minority institutions and think about even introducing voting by common people within the community when it comes to selecting chairpersons.
Wajahat Habibullah, former chairperson of the NCM, believes that not having a chairperson in certain minority institutions will further these problems. The NCM is a national level institution that functions under the National Commission of Minorities Act of 1993. It seeks to protect the interests of minorities all over the country.
He says, “Besides being part of the NCM, I also happen to have been the chairperson of the Information Commission of India. The chief has certain statutory authority, which makes the Information Commission un-runnable and un-administrable without a chairperson because all administrative powers are vested in him, which is not the case in other commissions.”
Habibullah was an IAS officer from 1968 until his retirement in August 2005. He was also Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of Panchayati Raj.
“The chairperson is not always the chief administrator of such commissions, so they will still be able to function,” Habibullah clarifies.
The absence of chairpersons in organisations like the National Commission for Minorities and the Information Commission poses a problem, feels Habibullah, because all other members report to the chairperson and work under her or his direction.”
The whole organisation suffers at such times, he says. “Not having a chairperson certainly reduces the effectiveness of such commissions – although you may say that they are ineffective in any case. The organisation becomes headless. Secondly, the status of the chairperson is an important one. For example, the chairperson of the Minority Commission holds the power of a cabinet minister, so when the chairperson is not there, the organisation’s stature suffers.”
He added, “These institutions are important for the country because they allow for venting of minorities’ grievances.”
Delhi is no better
The Delhi Waqf Board is entrusted with managing waqf property, giving pension to widows, salaries to muezzins and imams of mosques and helping the poor. It comes under the Waqf Board Act in 1954.
Amanatullah Khan, MLA from Okhla assembly constituency of Delhi was the chairperson of the Delhi Waqf Board until this year’s assembly elections in February. As per the regulations, a new chairperson has to be selected, or the old one reinstated again after the election results. This has been pending for the past six months, and the position of the chairperson has been empty.
There can be a maximum of seven people on the Delhi Waqf Board and a minimum of five members, including a Member of Parliament, a member of the Delhi Bar Council, Member of the Legislative Assembly of the state, a trustee [Mutawwali], a social worker, a Muslim government officer and a Muslim scholar.
Himal Akhtar, member of the Delhi Bar Council and Delhi Waqf Board member has been in office for about three years now. He says, “The government has to get elections done for the board, along with the selection of members, including the chairperson. This is long drawn – because it follows due process of law.” Akhtar added, “With no chairperson, the institution becomes handicapped and isn’t able to function properly.
Pointing towards the bureaucratic problem within the system, he says, “The biggest problem is that even though Delhi Waqf Board comes under the Delhi government, its revenue is governed by the centre. There is a power tussle always in play due to this, as well as a communication gap. Also, a lot of people in the board used to safeguard their own interests when it came to property distribution. But since 2017, the government has made certain rules to restrict that.”
He added, “Minority commissions are powerless. The Waqf Board is still an autonomous body, we have our own properties and through the money we receive from them, we try and function.”
According to sources in the Delhi Waqf Board, Amanatullah Khan is set to come back as the chairperson.
The Delhi State Hajj Committee and Delhi Minorities Commission, both under the Delhi government, are also headless.
The missing women
Hardly any women make it to the chairperson’s position in these commissions and boards. Even the presence of women members is a novelty.
Shabistan Ghaffar, former member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), says that irrespective of gender, people should come forward and work for their communities’ interests.
Talking about the importance of minority institutions in India, she said, “I have been a part of this system. Under the constitution of India, Articles 29 and 30 guarantee to the minority communities’ certain rights to establish and administer minority institutions according to their own choice. This came as an opportunity for the Muslim community to work for the community.”
Referring to the Sachar Committee report, she said, “It’s unfortunate that some of these institutions don’t have chairpersons currently. They were set up with the sole purpose of providing relief to the minorities – which are already in a bad state, and not having heads will result in deterioration of their conditions. They will go from bad to worst. The institutions become voiceless without heads, and it can lead to disasters.”
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Union Minister of Minority Affairs told The Wire, “The process [of appointing chairpersons] is ongoing. It has definitely been delayed a bit because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I agree with you [that the institutions are functioning like headless bodies], but within a short period of time, it will be solved.”
Courtesy The Wire