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A piece of history, a slice of controversy

The historic Qazi Wali Masjid in Paharganj has been at the centre of a controversy. With allegations of illegal constructions on its premises being thrown in, FIROZ BAKHT AHMED tries to find out the truth... .

IT IS religion versus commerce in Paharganj, a densely populated commercial-cum-residential area near New Delhi Railway Station. The residents are up in arms against the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Delhi Waqf Board (DWB) as the civic bodies have allegedly turned a blind eye to a lodge running in the premises of a historical and beautifully constructed, almost a century old mosque.

Ruthlessly violating all building laws, a large number of rooms have been shaped out of the mosque premises - an architectural and heritage wonder with its naqqashi (engraving) work right from the entrance to the inner portions - by means of unauthorised construction, at times even damaging the original structure.

In a case of blatant neglect, poor administration and almost criminal mismanagement on the part of the MCD and the DWB, no action against the illegal construction in the historic Qazi Wali Masjid (popularly known as Lal Masjid) has been taken despite the Delhi High Court order. Atop the graceful and wonderful minaret of the mosque is a sordid looking board, "Camran Lodge". In fact, it is the name of the illegal hotel in the mosque premises.

The Qazi Wali Masjid or Lal Masjid has been used for congregational prayers since it was built in 1946 by the Sangtarashan, a family of Bandhani Muslims dealing in the stone trade, often brought to Delhi by camels. At the time of the Partition, the family moved to Pakistan.

In 1960s, the mosque was handed over to the DWB. A resident stated that the builder of the mosque was Ziauddin whose grandson claimed that the mosque belonged to them.

A neighbour area says that no law permits commercial construction in a mosque but some lumpen elements have occupied the mosque on the pretext of maintaining it. He also claims that scurrilous activities like womanizing, boozing and gambling etc are also carried on.

The concerned residents in the area told that the Delhi High Court bench of Justice Devinder Gupta and Justice S Mukherjee in their January 25, 2002 order had asked the MCD and DWB to remove the illegal construction inside the mosque within six months.

Maulana Rahimuddin, a regular visitor to the mosque states that there are about 30-35 rooms in all in the guesthouse but the manager of the guesthouse, Faizan Farouqui the son of the caretaker Shamim Farouqui, states that there are only 12 rooms. Maulana Rahim informs that the lodge was built as a musafirkhana (lodge) for travellers who would like to stay in Delhi and offer prayers here.

The Delhi Youth Welfare Association, in a memorandum to the Delhi Lieutenant-Governor, Vijai Kpoor, has urged to ensure the sanctity of the mosque by restoring it to its original condition at the the earliest. It is pointed out that even the basement of the mosque hasn't been spared as two godowns have been made, damaging the foundation to a considerable extent.

The DWB officials too haven't been instrumental in carrying out the Delhi High Court order owing to the fact that the illegal occupants of the mosque are said to be highly influential people.

It is alleged by the residents that one Shamim Farouqui, the caretaker of the mosque, has allegedly carved illegal galleries into rooms for letting them on rent. The intricate ornamental arches and carvings on the walls of the 70-year old mosque have been covered with bricks and plaster. Even the canopies on the second floor have been partially covered for commercial use. The arches from outside have been closed with bricks paving way for building more illegal rooms.

"We have been using the mosque for several decades but the praying space has been shrinking and the namazis (devotees) dwindling day by day on account of the messy activities carried out in the adjacent rooms that are part of the mosque," states Abdul Qadir, a regular visitor to the mosque for the last four decades.

The Deputy Commissioner of the MCD-Sadar-Paharganj Zone, K.K. Mishra maintains that the illegal structures have been "pulled down". But the residents in the area claim that the MCD is only indulging in eyewash.

The MCD team sometime ago cosmetically took some portion of the wall facing the Paharganj main bazaar on which the owners of Camran Lodge put a tarpaulin sheet to cover it in the name of pulling down the illegal constructions!

In a PIL filed through Usha Kumar on behalf of an NGO, Society for Protection of Heritage (SPHC) seeking a direction to the Government to remove the illegal construction, the bench rejected the contention of the MCD counsel Shiv Kumar that in the absence of the plan of the mosque, it would be difficult to determine which portion was illegally built. "Mere absence of the plan cannot be ground for not taking action," the order said.

"The illegal constructions are clearly visible. One does not have to look up the original plans of the structure to differentiate between the illegal and legal portions," a Paharganj resident says.

Truth, according to the SPHC, is that the MCD officers are trying to shirk their duty by not pulling the illegal construction as well as not following the court instructions. "This is tantamount to contempt of Court," states a worker of the SPHC. "It is apprehended that the MCD would take action on paper and allow the occupants to continue in possession," a well-meaning person told this scribe.

It's better that parity is restored by pulling down the illegal hotel and restoring the sanctity of the mosque.

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