Jamia Millia’s land sale by former VC faces stiff opposition from faculty, alumni and former registrar; Delhi HC seeks clarification, orders status quo

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By Anwarulhaq Baig

NEW DELHI—Delhi High Court has sought a clarification from the authorities of the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) about the ‘no objection certificate’(NOC) issued with regard to the proposed sale of land currently under the possession of Zakia Zaheer, daughter of educationist the late Khwaja Ghulam Saiyidain. The high court also directed the JMI authorities and other stakeholders to maintain status quo till a final decision of the court.

The clarification notice was issued and the status quo order was given on a petition filed by some alumni of the JMI and a former JMI registrar Nazim Hussain Jafri.

The petitioners submitted that the NOC was backdated and violated the court orders, raising concerns about the university’s handling of its real estate.

Jafri, who previously served as the secretary of JMI’s executive council which is the highest decision making body of the university, claims he had refused to issue the NOC due to the university’s pre-emptive rights on the land.

He alleges the university administration went ahead with the sale despite his objections.

The high court has demanded a detailed explanation from the JMI regarding these serious accusations.

In August last year, the High Court, hearing a petition filed by Harisul Haq, Jamia Teachers’ Association (JTA) secretary, ordered to maintain status quo on this controversial land deal.

Haq petitioned HC against proposed land sale

A physical education teacher at Jamia Middle School and the outgoing secretary of the Jamia Teachers’ Association (JTA), Haq said that in a meeting on August 4, 2023, JMI Executive Council decided that NOC should not be issued to Zakia Zakeer, one of the daughters Khwaja Ghulam Saiyidain.

Haq said that three out of four nominees of the President of India, who is the visitor of Jamia, were present in the council meeting and strongly objected to issuing an NOC.

President of India’s nominees argued that if Zakia Zakeer wants to sell out this property, JMI itself should purchase it because the land originally belonged to Jamia. When the Jamia land was allotted to Zakia Zakeer’s father, it was clearly stated in the deal that selling the particular piece of land in question at any future date would be illegal without the consent of Jamia because of the university having pre-emptive right over the property. This means that whenever the property is sold by the descendants of the late Khwaja Saiyidain, the JMI will have the first right to purchase the property, and no one else. So, the sale offer to any third party without first giving a chance to the Jamia would be a violation of the existing bye-laws.

Haq accused the former JMI vice-chancellor of having some under the table deal and that was why, he alleged, she used her veto powers to give a nod for issuing an NOC.

Haq said that the Jamia, in one of the meetings, had cancelled five land leases, saying it needed the properties. But in the subsequent meeting, university authorities decided that they did not need further land for the university and hence, they gave the nod for the NOC. This indicated some underhand deal with regard to issuance of the NOC, Haq alleges.

He alleged that a day before the hearing of a petition filed by Haq in the same case on August 24, 2023, the VC pressured the registrar to sign the NOC, but the registrar refused to sign it, saying that it was against the interest of Jamia.

According to Haq, on August 24, 2023, the Delhi HC passed an interim stay order on the land deal, but till date, no NOC copy was submitted in the court.

Later on, Haq accused the then Estate officer Eqbal Hussain signed the NOC letter in the back date, that is, August 21, 2023. Haq clarified that the Estate officer or OSD has no authority to sign the NOC, and even the VC is not the signatory authority.

He says that only the Jamia registrar has the right to sign NOC letters in such matters.

Even assistant registrars were approached to sign the NOC letter, but no one agreed to sign it.

Haq also said the notes of the Executive Committee meeting on August 4, 2023 were not confirmed in a subsequent meeting of the Executive Committee.

He clarified that when the exchange deal was signed in 1957, Jamia put a condition that whenever this property would be sold, Jamia would purchase it or take it at the current market rate on the condition of either selling it or giving it on lease or rent.  Haq said that this exchange deal was written in Urdu language, putting as many as eight conditions regarding the impugned property, and he has a copy of it. Haq alleges that an influential property developer, who is also his Jamia senior colleague, purportedly made a deal with the then VC Najma Akhtar. He alleged that the property developer even paid some crores of rupees to her as an advanced payment for purchasing this land.

Haq states that according to the 1957 land deed papers, Khwaja Ghulam Saiyidain approached Jamia for seeking land to reside near Jamia as he was living somewhere in Delhi. After accepting his plea, Jamia gave this land to him in exchange for a land located in Joga Bai, near Zakir Nagar, New Delhi, but putting the previously mentioned conditions. The land in question is located near Tikona Park, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, where a nameplate of Zakia Zaheer is displayed, measuring around 855 square yards. The petitioner also made it clear that Jamia is stretched over several pieces of land, mostly on Waqf lands donated by philanthropists.

Narrating his suffering due to this petition, Haq pointed out that Jamia has hundreds of teachers, but no one dared to speak out against this injustice except him alone. Consequently, Haq laments, “I have been suspended from Jamia. The registrar Al-Jafri has been removed from the post, while Eqbal Hussain, who signed the NOC, was promoted as pro-VC. As per government rule, during suspension, 50% salary is paid until three months, and afterward, it is increased to 75%. Despite this rule, they have blocked even my 50% salary since the last three and a half months. Various threats in different ways and pressure are also given to me to pull back the petition.” Calling on all alumni of Jamia, teachers, professors, leaders, media persons, and activists to speak out on this matter to save Jamia’s properties, Haq warns that if an NOC is granted for a property, it will become a precedent, and no land of Jamia would be saved from being lost.

Jamia Old Boys Association opposes land deal

Badre Alam, General Secretary of the Jamia Old Boys Association (JOBA) and  an alumni, narrated that the dispute arose between then VC Najma Akhtar and then Registrar Nazim Al-Jafri. It was mandatory to decide the land matter in the Executive Council of Jamia. Then VC Najma Akhtar took the matter to the Executive Council, but the majority of its members opposed issuing the NOC for selling this land to a third party or builder.

However, Najma Akhtar forced the registrar to sign the NOC, but Al-Jafri refused to sign it. Amid this, the retirement time of the VC was close, so Najma Akhtar got the signature of the then Estate Officer, Prof. Iqbal Hussain, even on a back date, as a petition was filed in the high court against selling this land to a third party.

But Eqbal Hussain was not authorized to do so; only a Registrar is authorized to sign such deals.

A member of the old boys association and a member of the Jamia Teachers’ Association, Harisul Haq, challenged the NOC.

He accused Najma Akhtar of doing so in her personal interest.

Badre Alam clarified that Khwaja Ghulam Saiyidain gave the land to Jamia in an exchange deal. As he donated a faraway land somewhere to Jamia, in exchange, Jamia allowed him to reside on a piece of land in a prime location. But a clause was put in the land deed that whenever this land would be sold, an NOC or seeking the permission of Jamia is mandatory, meaning Jamia gave this property with the condition that you can reside or use it, but you are not authorized to sell it.

Badre Alam told India Tomorrow that when he asked Najma Akhtar why she was doing it, the madam replied that this is not an issue of Jamia, and there are thousands of such properties. So he replied to her that thousands of properties’ issues are not discussed in the Executive Council, and he asked her to show him the bylaws, but she did not have the record or did not want to show it. But Badre Alam stated that he knew the deed, which is written in Urdu language, and it is mentioned clearly in it that before giving the property to anyone, it would be asked of Jamia to purchase the property at the market rate. Instead of purchasing itself, Jamia VC stated that we don’t need this property at present and allowed it to be sold to a third party.

Giving details, Badre Alam said that one of Khwaja Ghulam Saiyidain’s three daughters shifted out of India, while properties of the two are here, and Jamia had already purchased one piece of land from one daughter around 400 square yards in the 2000s. Similarly, Badre Alam asserted that we also asked Jamia to purchase this property too. If Badre Alam vowed that Jamia did not have money to purchase the property, the Alumni association would collect the required fund through crowd funding for Jamia. As an alumni body, we vow not to lose any piece of land of Jamia. Badre Alam blamed Najma Akhtar for lingering over the matter until her retirement and making the estate officer Eqbal Hussain, who signed the NOC, the officiating Vice Chancellor after her retirement on November 12, 2023. Earlier, in September 2023, Eqbal Hussain was appointed as the Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) till the expiry of the term of then Vice-Chancellor, Najma Akhtar. (Eqbal Hussain has now been removed as VC on Delhi high court order). Immediately, after taking charge as the officiating Vice Chancellor, Eqbal Hussain removed the registrar Nazim Al-Jafri from the post.

Registrar Nazim Al-Jafri tells HC that NOC was backdated

Subsequently, Prof. Nazim Hussain Al-Jafri, the then Registrar Secretary of the Executive Council of Jamia Millia Islamia, filed an affidavit in the High Court stating that a No Objection Certificate (NOC) was issued by the then Vice Chancellor after a writ petition had already been filed.

In his affidavit, Al-Jafri disclosed that the NOC presented to the Division Bench was backdated and created solely for the purpose of the current writ petition.

Al-Jafri writes, “On the evening of August 23, 2023, I was contacted by the then Vice Chancellor, who seemed extremely agitated. She forcefully demanded that I immediately issue a backdated NOC, as a writ petition had been filed before this Court and was scheduled for the very next day, August 24, 2023.”

He continues, “I refused this request despite the strong insistence of the then Vice Chancellor. When the matter was listed before the Court on August 24, 2023, an order of status quo was granted.”

Al-Jafri further states, “When Ms. Zakia Zaheer appealed the order passed by the Court on August 24, 2023, to the Division Bench, I was shocked to find a purported backdated NOC dated August 21, 2023. This NOC was issued by the Estate Officer and the present incumbent Officiating Vice Chancellor without jurisdiction, as the minutes of the Executive Council meeting on August 4, 2023, had not yet been confirmed in a subsequent meeting. Objections had been raised regarding the draft minutes circulated. I had been attempting to convene a meeting of the Executive Council for this purpose to resolve the controversy and clarify the situation, but my efforts were consistently obstructed.”

Al-Jafri concludes, “It is perplexing that an NOC, which the then Vice Chancellor vehemently requested from me as late as the evening of August 23, 2023, mysteriously appeared to be issued a day earlier by the Estate Officer and the present incumbent Officiating Vice Chancellor. I am compelled to state that the entire decision-making process of the Executive Council on August 4, 2023, regarding Item No. 10, and the subsequent issuance of a backdated NOC, is riddled with illegality. An investigation into the university’s File Transfer System (FTS) would reveal the manipulation that is being carried out in this case. I am compelled to put these facts on record in my personal capacity because I am certain that Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) will not present the true picture of events to the Court. I do not want to be accused of participating in a reckless and brazen act that compromises the valuable interests of JMI. My conscience does not allow me to be a silent observer of the university’s assets being squandered, which I have protected for years in my capacity as Registrar. In fact, the then Vice Chancellor directed me to sign a counter-affidavit on behalf of the university for this writ petition. However, I refused outright to swear to a false affidavit. Surprisingly, I was placed on forced leave for one day, during which time the counter-affidavit was signed by the Deputy Registrar.”

Zakia Zaheer’s Claim

Zaheer claims her father, Khwaja Ghulam Saiyidain, donated a plot of land to JMI in exchange for a smaller plot. This exchange was approved by JMI’s Executive Committee in 1952 and registered in 1957. The agreement granted JMI a right of first refusal if she ever wished to sell the property.

Zaheer’s Reasoning for Selling the Land

As an elderly woman with grandchildren studying in the UK, Zaheer desires to sell the property to fund their education. She obtained a No Objection Certificate from JMI on August 21, 2023, to facilitate the sale.

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