KARACHI, Aug 4: Over half the mosques and imambargahs in the city have been constructed on encroached land. Capital City Police Officer Tariq Jamil told Dawn on Saturday that police could take no action against mosques and imambargahs built on encroached land.

"According to government estimates, there are 3,000 mosques and imambargahs in the city. Over half of them have been constructed on encroached land. But the police are powerless to take action against those who encroach upon a piece of land and build a mosque thereon," he said.

Mr Jamil conceded that whenever the police initiated action against the squatters, they pointed out that police stations were also built on encroached land. "It is for religious scholars to determine what status a mosque built on encroached land has. If they declare a mosque unlawfully constructed, the police can help the city administration to demolish it," he said.

The secretary of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Dr Ghulam Murtaza Azad, told Dawn that mosques constructed on encroached land were illegal. The Council of Islamic Ideology was established as "Advisory Council of Islamic Ideology" on Aug 1, 1962 under Article 199 of the Constitution of 1962.

It was re-designated as the "Council of Islamic Ideology" in the Constitution of 1973. Articles 228, 229, 230 and 231 of the Constitution deal with the composition of the council, its reference by parliament, its functions and rules of procedure, respectively.

Dr Azad said: "On principle, a mosque cannot be constructed on encroached land. But there is another factor that needs to be considered. If the owner of a piece of land does not object when a mosque is being built on it and he remains quiet even after its construction, then his subsequent objection may not be tenable in a court of law.

In technical parlance, his objections must come to the court within the limitation period." The limitation period is a legally specified period beyond which an action may be defeated or a property right is not to continue.

Section 3 of the Limitation Act 1908 says: "Subject to the provisions contained in Sections 4 to 25 (inclusive), every suit instituted, appeal preferred, and application made after the period of limitation prescribed therefor by the First Schedule shall be dismissed although limitation has not been set up as a defence."

Dr Azad made clear that if it was proved that a mosque was unlawfully constructed on encroached land, it could be demolished. The 2001-2002 report of the Council of Islamic Ideology contains two recommendations about mosques built on encroached land.

They are: "First, the mosque built on a piece of land without the permission of its owner, is not a mosque. However, if the owner makes no objection even when he sees a mosque being built on his land, then he would be deemed to have given passive permission. Second, it is illegal to build mosques on state land and written permission should be sought from relevant authorities."

The council's report also urges the government to properly run the mosques which are under its control. The secretary of the Sindh auqaf department, Fasihuddin Khan, said there were only 32 mosques under the administrative control of the provincial government. He added that it was not known how many mosques were there in Karachi.

"The mosques run by the Sindh auqaf department operate on a self-finance basis. The amount of money collected by mosques goes towards the payment of salaries of mosques officials, utility bills, etc," he explained. He said it was not the responsibility of the provincial auqaf department to stop mosques from being constructed on encroached land.