Allahabad High Court. (File Photo: IANS). Image Source: IANS News

Prayagraj, Jan 26 : The Allahabad High Court has set aside the state government order dated September 30, 2020, whereby the tenure of the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board was extended for six months.

While setting aside the extension of tenure, the court appointed principal secretary, department of minority welfare and waqf as an administrator of the Board to manage day-to-day affairs of the Board.

However, the administrator will not be eligible to take any policy decision relating to the Board and will ensure holding of the elections and give charge to an elected Board on or before February 28, 2021.

Disposing of a writ petition filed by Wasim Uddin and Allamah Zameer Naqvi and another on Monday , a division bench comprising Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Saurabh Shyam Shamshery observed, "We failed to understand as to why the respondents did not choose to hold timely elections. Elections for a democratically elected body are essential for application of democratic values and working of the institution accordingly. Such functioning should have not been compromised at any cost. Election of such body could be deferred only in most emergent and extraordinary circumstances." The petitioners had challenged the validity of orders dated July 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020, passed by principal secretary, Government of Uttar Pradesh, department of minority welfare and Waqf.

Through the orders, the state government had extended the term of the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board after it expired on April 1, 2020, citing the reason of Covid-19 pandemic.

Appearing on behalf of the petitioners, senior advocate S.F.A. Naqvi argued that the Act of 1995 does not empower the state government to extend the term of the elected Board.

In absence of any such authority, the extension of the term of the Board is improper. He asserted that the state government extended the term of the Board beyond its authority for certain extraneous considerations.

The court after hearing the concerned parties observed, "It is not in dispute that under the Act of 1995, no power is available to the state government to extend the term of an elected Waqf Board. The term of an elected Waqf Board is of 5 years and as per provisions of the Act of 1995, an election is required to be conducted before expiry of the term of 5 years enabling the new Board to occupy the office." Regarding the further extension after the situation improved, the court observed, "The state government, if it would have been vigilant enough, could have held the elections in the months of August and September, 2020. It would also be appropriate to state that the number of voters for electing Waqf Board is less and voting of such number of voters could have been controlled with application of Covid-19 protocol including social distancing. In the month of September, 2020 elections of several other bodies, including the Legislative Assembly were held in the country." The court made it clear that the administrative decisions taken by the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board during its extended term shall not be invalidated on the count of setting aside of the extension order.

The UP Sunni Waqf Board was appointed in accordance with Waqf Act, 1995. The existing Board was elected on April 1, 2015 for a period of five years. The term of the Board came to end on April 1 last year but for all practical purposes, it was working and the government, on July 1, 2020, extended the term.

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