The Delhi High Court on Thursday asked the Delhi Development Authority to explain why it demolished a 600-year-old mosque in the national capital on Tuesday, Live Law reported.

On January 30, the Akhondji mosque in the city’s Mehrauli neighbourhood was bulldozed along with the Behrul Uloom madrasa by the Delhi Development Authority.

The Delhi Development Authority, a statutory body that reports to the Union government, is responsible for planning and constructing urban projects in the national capital territory.

The managing committee of the Delhi Waqf Board contended in its plea before the High Court that the mosque’s Imam Zakir Hussain and his family have been left without a shelter as his home was also razed.

The Delhi Development Authority submitted that the demolition took place on the recommendations made by the Delhi government’s religious committee on January 4.

It also told the court that the religious committee had given the Delhi Waqf Board’s chief executive officer an opportunity to argue their side, Bar and Bench reported. However, the Waqf Board argued that the religious committee has no authority to order any demolition.

The Delhi Development Authority said that the action was taken after the Ridge management board decided to free the area from “all type of illegal encroachment”.

“A committee was formed under [the] chairmanship of DM [District Magistrate] South Delhi to assess the encroachment in Sanjay Van, which suggested the removal of various illegal structures from the Sanjay Van,” the civic body said in a statement shared with Scroll.

Sanjay Van is a city forest area in Delhi.

The removal of structures was approved by the religious committee, a body that oversees matters related to religious sites, the statement said.

On Thursday, the High Court told the Delhi Development Authority to file a reply in the matter within a week “clearly setting out the action that has been taken in respect of the concerned property and the basis thereof and as to whether any prior notice was given before taking the demolition action”.

The demolition started at 5 am on Tuesday and lasted for nearly 12 hours, said Muzamil Salmani, a Mehrauli resident who taught modern education to the students at the madrasa. There were around 25 students enrolled at the madrasa, he said.

“They have lost their home,” Salmani added. “The police barricaded the area and did not let anyone in, and the restrictions still continue even after four days.”

Fahiman, the wife of the mosque’s Imam, said that the Delhi Development Authority arrived at the spot with 13 bulldozers and a larger police force.

“They did not give us even a chance to collect our wares,” Fahiman said. “First they demolished the mosque, then they bulldozed the Madrasa and after that they levelled the graveyard.”

The mosque’s history

The details about the mosque of Akhondji are recorded in the list of 3,000 monuments published by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1920. The list was prepared by Maulvi Zafar Hasan, the assistant superintendent of the organisation at that time.

The Archaeological Survey of India’s records say that while the date of the mosque’s construction is not known, it was repaired around the year 1853.

“The mosque is covered with an arched roof and entered through three arches supported on double pillars of grey local stone,” the record notes. “It is built of rubble masonry plastered.”

“Some people say the mosque was built in the reign of Razia Sultana,” Sohail Hashmi, a writer and filmmaker, who conducts heritage walks in Delhi told Scroll. “We are not fully sure.”

Hashmi, however, said that the use of grey stone points to the mosque being from the Delhi Sultanate period. “Grey stone mined from Aravallis [mountain range] was widely used for construction during Delhi Sultanate period, but its use gradually ended in the Mughal period and was replaced by sandstone,” he added.

Delhi Sultanate period spanned more than 300 years from the 13th century to the 16th century. Sultana was the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate from 1236 to 1240.

Hashmi rubbished the Delhi Development Authority’s claims that the mosque and the graveyard are an encroachment into Sanjay Van.

“This section of Aravalli adjacent to the Qutb Minar came to be known as Sanjay Van after the death of Sanjay Gandhi, grandson of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru,” he said. “These structures existed even before Nehru’s birth.”

The official website of the Delhi Development Authority also states that the Sanjay Van houses “historic ruins of [the] 12th century”. “It has been notified as a reserved forest under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927,” the website notes.

Hashmi alleged that there are several more encroachments in Sanjay Van such as a large garbage dump that has come up near Kishangarh and a medieval era tank that has been converted into a bathing ghat of a temple. “But there is no action on such encroachments,” he said.

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