Delhi HC seeks ASI, Centre's stand on plea for offering prayers in Mughal mosque

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Mughal mosque Mehrauli

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New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday sought the stand of the Centre and Archeological Survey of India on a plea by the managing committee of the Delhi Waqf Board seeking expeditious disposal of its pending petition against the stopping of offering of prayers in the Mughal mosque in city's Mehrauli area.

Justice Manoj Kumar Ohri issued notice on an application filed by the petitioner committee to advance the date of hearing in the matter from August 21 in light of an order of the Supreme Court requesting the high court to decide the matter as soon as possible.

"This matter is hanging for some time," lawyer M Sufian Siddiqui, appearing for the petitioner, told the court which listed the matter for hearing on April 27.

Siddiqui said there was urgency in the case as the month of Ramzan is ongoing, which shall soon culminate upon Eid-ul-Fitr, and the worshippers are waiting to offer their prayers in the Mughal Masjid.

"Issue notice. List in the end of April," said Justice Ohri.

The petitioner had approached the high court last year with the grievance that the officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) completely stopped the offering of namaz in the Mughal mosque on May 13, 2022, in an “absolutely unlawful, arbitrary and precipitous manner”, without serving any notice or order.

The petition has sought to restrain the authorities from "causing any obstruction or interference in the performance of 'namaz' at the mosque in question, that is, a waqf property notified as 'Masjid adjacent to Eastern Gate of Qutab Minar, Mehrauli' in Delhi Administration's Gazette Notification.

In its application for expeditious hearing, the petitioner emphasised the right to speedy justice and submitted that with each passing day, its fundamental rights are getting transgressed on a daily basis and the Constitution's assurance of being treated alike and primacy of 'Rule of Law' was also getting eroded.

It also informed that the matter is ripe for final hearing as the pleadings are complete.  In its reply to the petition, the ASI has said the mosque in question comes within the boundary of Qutub Minar and is thus within protected area and offering of prayers cannot be permitted there.

The ASI has cautioned that allowing worship in Mughal mosque would “not only set an example but it may also impact other monuments too”.

It stated the decision of the high court would “have a significant bearing/ influence” on the matter before the Saket court.

“The instant matter is liable to be dismissed on grounds that the petitioners are misleading the Hon'ble Court by stating that the mosque in question is not a Centrally Protected Monument,” the reply said.

“Qutub Minar is a monument of national importance and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is submitted that it is not a place of worship, since the time of its protection the monument or any part of it, has not been used for any type of worship by any community. It is submitted that the mosque in question comes within the boundary of Qutub Minar complex,” the reply has added.

The petitioner has maintained that the Mughal mosque was distinct from the “contentious” Quwattul Islam Mosque which is the subject matter of a suit before a lower court in Saket here.

A plea, pending before a Saket court, has prayed for restoration of Hindu and Jain deities inside the Qutub Minar complex on grounds that 27 temples were partly demolished by Qutubdin Aibak, a general in the army of Mohamad Gauri, and Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque was raised inside the complex by reusing the material.

The petitioner has asserted that the mosque is not “protected” and is outside the fenced area and is also at a distance from the Quwwatul Islam Masjid and that there is an overwhelming evidence to prove that the mosque was under religious use and regular prayers were being held there when the other structures in adjacent area were declared as centrally protected monuments.

“That the respondents have not denied or even disputed those documents and are, in a mischievous manner, trying to create an illusion that the subject matter of the present petition is 'Quwwatul Islam Masjid',” the rejoinder filed by the petitioner has said.

Earlier this month, while dealing with an appeal by the petitioner against a March 7 high court order refusing to advance the date of hearing from August 21, the Supreme Court had requested the high court to take up the pending matter and decide it as expeditiously as possible.