The Delhi High Court on Thursday sought the response of the Centre on a plea seeking to restrain the waqf board from using title ‘Shahi Imam’ for Jama Masjid’s Imam Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar also issued notice to the Delhi Waqf Board on the plea seeking to stop the practice of referring to imams of other mosques here as ‘shahi’. The bench directed the authorities to file their reply before the next date of hearing — February 27 next year.
The application for removal of the title ‘Shahi Imam’ was moved in pending PILs that sought directions to the authorities to declare the historic Mughal-era Jama Masjid here a protected monument and remove all encroachments in and around it.
Petitioner Ajay Gautam also sought to restrain Syed Ahmed Bukhari and other persons from using title of ‘Shahi Imam’, working under control and supervision of the Delhi Wakf Board for any purpose or business.
He submitted that ‘shahis’ used to be appointed during the Mughal period.
“Shahi imam means officer appointed by the shah (emperor). Now, the Delhi Waqf Board is neither appointing a shahi Imam nor maintaining any such record,” the application said.
The plea said that Article 18 of the Constitution prevents the State from conferring any title to its citizens except military and academic distinction.
However, the Centre, during the brief hearing of the PILs, sought more time to place before the court the documents regarding its decision that the Jama Masjid should not be declared a protected monument.
The bench allowed the request made by the Centre, but asked it to place the records positively before the next date of hearing.
The court had sought the records after it had noted that in 2005 too, the Ministry of Culture was asked by the court to produce the records.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had in August 2015 told the court that former prime minister Manmohan Singh had assured the Shahi Imam that the Jama Masjid would not be declared a protected monument.
The court was also informed that as the Jama Masjid was not a centrally protected monument, it does not fall within the purview of the ASI.
“In 2004, the issue of notifying the Jama Masjid as a centrally protected monument was raised. However, former prime minister Manmohan Singh assured the Shahi Imam, vide his October 20, 2004 letter, that the Jama Masjid would not be declared as centrally protected monument,” the ASI had said in its affidavit in the court.
It had filed a counter affidavit on PILs filed by Suhail Ahmed Khan, Ajay Gautam and advocate V K Anand, who have said that the Jama Masjid was a property of the Delhi Wakf Board and Syed Ahmed Bukhari as its employee could not appoint his son as the naib (deputy) imam.
They have also sought a CBI probe into the mosque’s management.