LAHORE - The Auqaf Organisation earns over Rs1.5 billion every year and millions from this amount go into the pockets of organisation’s employees and contractors and the political hierarchy, which controls affairs of the autonomous body.

Misappropriation of donations collected through cash boxes placed at shrines and mosques and irregularities and nepotism in award of contracts are major issues facing the organisation.

Although the Supreme Court has already ordered forensic audit of the organisation’s accounts, The Nation tried to check facts thorough a research-based approach. This scribe visited different shrines, talked to relevant people and visitors and went through documents. He found that the organisation could double its earnings in a short span of time if the Punjab government adopts measures to check corruption and mismanagement damaging the institutions for decades.

Mian Ata Manika, a senior politician who served as Auqaf minister for three years during PML-N’s last tenure in Punjab, said there was massive corruption in the organisation and it was not easy to eliminate it. “I repeatedly tried to meet Shehbaz Sharif [the then Punjab chief minister], but he had no time for Auqaf.”

Narrating a story about theft of money from cash boxes, he said he deputed an Auqaf official to monitor collection of donations during the Urs of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria. He said the official found holes at the bottom of cash boxes. When the official pointed this out, he said, the staff at the shrine levelled corruption allegations against the official.

A major portion of the Auqaf land, he said, has been occupied by the powerful mafia in connivance with department officials, and the state is not interested in retrieving it. Manika was not optimistic about improvement in the situation even after the forensic audit.

The organisation earned over Rs1.7 billion last year against its total expenditure of Rs1.64 billion. Documents show that donations received by shrines make more than half of the total earnings.

Besides collection of Rs916 million donations, Rs181 million were earned from rented out properties, Rs291 million from leased out agriculture land, Rs107 million from various contracts and Rs130 million from Urs festivals, car parking and miscellaneous heads. Other sources of income were: transfer fee Rs8.8 million, recovery of arrears Rs28.9 million, Data Darbar Hospital Rs7.22 million, income from investment and recovery of advance Rs27.5 million, sale of Auqaf publications Rs0.35 million and receipts in assets building account Rs2 million.

From total expenditure of Rs1.64 billion, Rs763 million were spent on administration, Rs689 million on religious affairs (conducting different seminars, sittings, etc.), Rs36.7 million on social welfare and Rs204 million on health services.

Documents show that cash boxes placed at the shrine of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh and Badshahi Mosque make a major share of donations.

A comparison between the last and this year’s income from shrines shows a small increase this year, but the expenditure is rising with same rate, brining overall no benefit to the organisation. The reasons for which, officials say, are corruption and mismanagement.

According to the data, Rs335 million were collected from cash boxes placed at Data Darbar in 2017-18 and the total earning from the shrine was Rs390 million. Expenditure stood at Rs95 million and income in 2018-19 is projected to increase to Rs417 million. At least Rs65.4 million were collected from cash boxes at Baba Farid’s shrine. Total income from the shrine was Rs87 million and expenditure stood at Rs22.6 million. The income for the next year is projected to increase to Rs98 million. At least Rs7.4 million were collected from Mian Mir’s shrine. The total income stood at Rs10.7 million and expenditure at Rs3.4 million. The expected income next year is Rs12.7 million.

At least Rs14.4 million were collected from cash boxes placed at Baba Bulleh Shah’s shrine, the total income was Rs25.4 million and expenditure stood at Rs4.3 million. Next year’s income is expected to increase to Rs26.5 million.

Cash boxes place at Mian Sher Muhammad’s shrine in Sharqpur collected Rs3.7 million in 2017-18, the total income was Rs4.5 million and expenditure Rs1.7 million. Next year’s income is projected to increase to Rs4.9 million.

A cash box placed at Bibiyan Pak Daman’s shrine contributed Rs30.5 million to Auqaf’s kitty, total income was Rs30.82 million, expenditure stood at Rs4.3 million and the next year’s income is projected to increase to Rs39 million.

Cash boxes placed at Hazrat Pir Makki’s shrine collected around Rs19 million, total income was Rs21.9 million, expenditure stood at Rs3.8 million and next year’s income is expected to increase to Rs22.8 million.

As many as Rs17.6 million were received from cash box at Badshahi Mosque, total income was Rs38.1 million and expenditure touched Rs16.6 million. The next year’s income is projected to increase to Rs39 million.

Sources say a cash box has three locks and their keys are in possession of the district Khateeb (prayer leader), district Auqaf manager and National Bank of Pakistan manager. They meet every week, fortnight or month, open the box in front of faithful, count the amount and hand it over to a bank representative on a deposit slip. So, they say, pointing out corruption and culprits is not an easy task.

Hence, they argue, corruption is being committed in connivance with different officials, from the lower to upper level. They say that a caretaker of grade 1 deployed at each box mostly acts as a basic source of corruption. He acts like a bridge to distribute ill-gotten money to all ‘stakeholders’. The money, they say, could be in hundreds to thousands per day and this varies from site to site.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar has ordered a forensic audit and hearing of the case pertaining to use of donations received by different shrines in Punjab. In line with directions of the apex court, the Auqaf Department formed committees to conduct raids at donation sites.

A recent incident at Pir Makki shrine shows how the management wakes up from a deep slumber. According to details, donations collected through a cash box at the shrine in the first week of Islamic calendar month were Rs244,000 and the amount of these donations increased to Rs380,000 the very next week when the box was opened in the presence of a raiding team.

The organisation runs 534 shrines and 534 mosques and owns 76,625 acres of agriculture land and 1,403 domestic and commercial properties. From total agriculture land, around 11,000 acres are under illegal occupation.  The Punjab government retrieved 150 acres of agriculture, commercial and domestic land during a recent anti-encroachment operation in the province. Sources said that organisations’ arrears are more than Rs700 million.

They also pointed out wrongdoings and corruption in award of contracts to blue-eyed people in the past.

Established in 1959, Auqaf Organisation is an autonomous body, governed under Waqf Properties Ordinance 1979, headed by a chief administrator. The federal government took it under its control in 1977 but reverted it to the provincial government after two years in 1979.

The Auqaf Department separately works under a secretary and acts as a bridge between the Punjab government and Auqaf Organisation. The secretary of Auqaf Department also works as chief administrator of Auqaf Organisation on an additional charge. The department’s yearly expenditure is around Rs50 million.

Calling the department a white elephant, some employees propose the government should take full control of the organisation, merge both the organisation and the department or end interference in organisation for its smooth working. Around 2,789 employees work with the organisation, which also runs a 120-bed hospital near Data Darbar and 16 dispensaries across the province. It has 11 zones and each zone runs under an administrator.

Auqaf spokesman Asif Ejaz denied corruption at donation sites and in award of contracts. He said that committees to raid cash boxes were formed to curb corruption at shrines and cameras were also installed to monitor donations from visitors.