‘Waqf Chairman gave the go-ahead for demolition in Rajasthan village'

The demolition of a century-old roofless mosque on a hilltop at Pur village in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan to make way for mining by a private company has led to outrage here. The issue has brought into question the State Waqf Board's role in giving the “green signal” to a group, claiming to represent local Muslims, for razing the mosque.

Jindal Saw Limited, owned by the O. P. Jindal Group, bought the mosque, paying the Anjuman Committee of Pur Rs. 65 lakh, and demolished it on April 19. The company has produced a receipt issued by the Anjuman for the payment.

The incident left the community in the village stupefied. It lodged a police complaint under Section 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) of the Indian Penal Code. The police have since arrested three persons and recovered the money paid to the Anjuman.

Jindal Saw Limited director Dharmendra Gupta and Anjuman president Qasim Ansari and secretary Ramzan Sorgar have been remanded in police custody. Six other accused persons, including Congress leader Om Narayaniwal, are yet to be arrested.

Amid allegations that bribes over and above Rs. 65 lakh, paid as settlement through receipt, changed hands between the company representatives, local politicians and Waqf Board functionaries, the district administration has started reconstructing the mosque at is original site.

The Anjuman Committee has justified its action on the basis of a ‘fatwa' it sought from the Imam of the Gulmandi Jama Masjid, Maulana Hafeez-ur-Rehma, who has also been arraigned as an accused. The Maulana opined, after visiting the place, that it was a “cluster of graves” rather than a mosque and could be shifted.

Muslim groups here allege that Waqf Board Chairman Liaqat Ali Khan gave the go-ahead for the demolition after receiving a letter from the Anjuman seeking guidance in the matter, though the place has been registered as a mosque in the list of Bhilwara district's Waqf properties published in the 1965 State Gazette.

Mansoori panchayat president Abdul Latif Arco said here on Tuesday that the Waqf Board could not entertain such a plea from a so-called committee which was neither registered with it nor authorised by anyone: “We believe that the Waqf Board gave a tacit approval after a deal with the company. Demolition could not have taken place without the connivance of the topmost functionaries.”

A demand has been made for immediate removal of Mr. Khan and other officers concerned as well as for a CBI probe. Mr. Arco pointed out that the Waqf Board Chairman had directed the Anjuman to take action, stating it should be “in the interest of the Waqf and in accordance with the Shariah provisions.”

Mr. Khan, however, told The Hindu that he had not instructed the Anjuman to demolish the mosque per se and only suggested that “appropriate action” be taken to save the roofless mosque from mining. “Anyone is free to approach the Waqf Board [for guidance] in view of its status as the highest body looking after the Muslim endowments,” he said.

An emergency Waqf Board meeting, called here for Tuesday, could not take place ostensibly for lack of a quorum. Mr. Khan said the full Board would put the seal of approval on the permission granted by him to the Bhilwara Collector for reconstruction of the mosque.