“The argument that the campus has residential premises for teaching as well as non-teaching staff, a mosque was constructed for them cannot be accepted as it goes against the permission granted by the state,” observes Allahabad High Court.
Syed Khalique Ahmed
NEW DELHI—Could the land acquired by a university be taken back and handed over to its owners because a portion of the land has been used for construction of a mosque to fulfil the religious and cultural requirements of its faculty and students living on the campus?
This has become a matter of debate after the Allahabad High Court a few days ago rejected a plea of the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University Trust against the proceedings of the Uttar Pradesh government to take back 173 acres of land that was acquired by the university way back in 2005. The Trust is headed by Samajwadi Party leader and former minister Azam Khan, with his wife Tazeen Fatima as secretary and their son Abdullah Azam as one of its active members. Azam Khan and Abdullah Azam are currently lodged in Sitapur jail in connection with several cases registered against them after BJP coming to power in the state in 2017. The cases against Azam Khan and his family are said to be politically motivated.
However, the Trust is preparing to challenge the order in the Supreme Court. The Trust and university are named after leading freedom fighter Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar.
Many universities have temples, chapels in their premises
One of the main reasons given by the high court to allow the state government to recover the land is the construction of a mosque on the university campus, adjoining the university hostel and the Faculty of Islamic Studies. There are many other universities and educational institutions having religious places within their campuses all across India to meet the religious requirements of the majority of its students and faculty members. Even Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has a huge Vishwanath Temple built inside the campus in 1966, with money donated by Birlas. It is the tallest temple in India, with its ‘shikara’ (spire) being 73 metres in height. Aligarh Muslim University also has a huge mosque inside Sir Syed Hall, in the heart of the university campus. St Stephen’s College, the most prominent college in Delhi University campus, has a chapel serving the need of those living inside the institution. Even the University of Lucknow, which is just a few kilometres from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence, has a big temple in its Tilak Girl’s Hall that serves as the girls’ hostel of the university.
In its order on September 6, the HC upheld the four major allegations levelled by the state government against the Trust. The state government submitted that since the Trust had violated the conditions for allowing it to acquire land for the university, the state government has the right to cancel the permission and reclaim the land. One of the major violations mentioned by the state government is the construction of a mosque on the land acquired for the university.
Other three violations are: 1. Purchase of land from members of the Scheduled Caste community without approval of the district authorities (violation of Section 157-A of the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition & Land Reforms Act, 1950), 2. Illegal grabbing of the ‘çhak road’(a track made from soil in farmland that serves as a path for farmers and others for carrying out agricultural and other activities) and 3. Violation of the five years time given by the State government for completion of buildings.
Mosque in violation of conditions for acquisition of land: High Court
In its judgement, HC noted that the construction of the mosque was in violation of the condition of permission given for acquisition of land for educational purposes only.
“The argument that the campus had residential premises for teaching as well as non-teaching staff, a mosque was constructed for them cannot be accepted as it goes against the permission granted by the state,” livelaw.in quoted the high court having observed in its verdict. Live Law is a news portal covering news from various courts in the country.
The court further noted, “In the present case, permission for transfer of land in excess of 12.50 acres was granted solely for establishing an educational institution. The establishment of a mosque was against the permission granted on 07-11-2005. Thus, the Trust violated the conditions. And condition No. 5 clearly provided that in case of violation of any of the conditions, land in excess of 12.50 acres will vest in the State Government after affording the opportunity of hearing. Neither in the reply before the respondent (state government) nor before this court, the petitioner-Trust could justify the action for establishing a mosque which was in clear violation of the condition laid down in the permission order dated 07-11-2005.”
SP party passed the university Bill in 2005, permitted to acquire 400 acres of land
Under the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition & Land Reforms Act, 1950, neither an individual nor an institution can possess more than 12.50 acres (5.086 hectares) of land. However, Section 154(2) of the Act empowers the state government to allow acquisition of land in excess of 12.5 acres for special purposes like educational institutions or any other public welfare projects. It was under this provision the state government permitted the Trust headed by Azam Khan to acquire 400 acres of land after the state government passed the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University Bill, 2005. The Bill was approved by the then UP governor Aziz Qureshi. Qureshi, who is a veteran Congress leader, gave assent to the bill despite severe pressure from the Congress leaders to reject the Bill. After governor’s assent, the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University Bill, 2005 became the Mohammad Ali Jauhar University Act, 2005.
The land acquired by the Trust includes 100 acres of evacuee property or enemy property (the land belonging to those who migrated to Pakistan after Partition in 1947), which is also called custodian land. As there was some legal problem in transfer of evacuee property to the Trust, it was first transferred to the local waqf board and then to the university Trust through due process of law. However, the state government authorities say that the Trust did not make payment to the waqf board for the land. But the university authorities say that the Trust is ready to make the payment if the government wants but there is no logic in taking back the land because it would result in closure of the institution which is a national asset. More than 1800 students are currently enrolled, mostly Muslims, and majority of them from educationally and economically backward group. Girl students make a sizeable strength of the Jauhar University which is the only university in a radius of about 100 kilometres with sizeable Muslim population. There are also no graduate or post-graduate college, particularly technical and management college, in any of the districts adjoining Rampur. This also explains the lack of vision on the part of Muslim politicians of the region who did not focus on education of their children though Muslims are among the biggest landlords in Rampur and adjoining districts.
The other land acquired/purchased by the Trust belong to 40 farmers of Shaukat Nagar village. While the Trust got the ownership of some portion of the land transferred in its name, the ownership could not be transferred in case of 3.75 bigha land though the Trust claims it made the payment to the owners for this also.
Dispute created after BJP came to power in 2017
However, a dispute over the land and other issues about the university arose after the change of power in the state in 2017. And this happened after a case filed by local BJP leader Akash Saxena before the Rampur Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s (SDM) court. Saxena alleged that the Trust had violated the conditions of the permission given for acquisition of the land for the university. Based on Saxena’s claims and investigations conducted by the district authorities, the state government accused the Trust of having illegally grabbed the ‘chak road’ that passes through the middle of the university and constructing a metalled road over it when Azam Khan was a minister in the Samajwadi Party’s government in UP. The State government also alleged that the Trust had illegally grabbed a portion of land on the bank of the river Kosi that flows by the Western boundary of the varsity. The government also accused the Trust of constructing the main gate of the university on PWD land and blocking access of people through the ‘chak road’ by erecting the university’s main gate at the starting point of the ‘chak road’. However, the trust denies the accusations, saying that there is no habitation on the other side of the ‘chak road’ that ends at the Kosi river bank and hence there are no local or people from outside to use the ‘chak road’. As the land on both sides of the ‘chak road’ has been acquired for the university, the Trust authorities say they are well within their right to use the ‘chak road’ for their own purposes and hence, construction of metalled road over the ‘chak road’ does not amount to any violation. They also deny that the main gate stands on PWD property. They claim that they have the papers of the land in Trust’s name. As for conversion of the ‘chak road’ into a metalled road by Public Works Department (PWD), the trust authorities say it was done to enable SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav to inaugurate the university. But it cannot be interpreted that the university has grabbed it.
As for the “disputed land” in Shaukat Nagar village, a university official said that the Trust agreed to pay again to the farmers provided they agreed to transfer the land to the Trust. However, the villagers, all Muslims, filed the FIR. According to university officials, when the villagers realized the conspiracy to close down the university, they submitted applications to withdraw the case. But it was too late by then. However, it was the Shaukat Nagar villagers who challenged the police and administration when they came to demolish the main gate of the building after a local court order on August 2 this year. During a recent visit of a media team from Delhi, the villagers said that they did not want any harm to the university. “It is our asset and we will not allow anyone to harm the university,” one of the villagers said. On conditions of anonymity, he said that the administration was very harsh to anyone who supported the university and that was why many people did not come out in open to support the cause of the university.
UP Govt must show large-heartedness: Jamaat-e-Islami Hind
A delegation of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind from Delhi also visited the university recently, met the university officials as also district collector Ravindra Kumar Mander. JIH submitted a memorandum appealing the state government to ensure that no harm should occur to the university and it continues to function in the interest of education. Malik Moatasim Khan, who headed the delegation, told the collector that the state government should show large-heartedness and solve the issue in the interest of education and avoid creating legal disputes because that will harm the educational aim for which the university has been set up.