Jama Masjid Delhi: The Real Estate Hunt and the State

by Sadia Dehlvi

Jama Masjid, the last significant and glorious monuments of the Mughal period now faces a threat of extinction in the garb of development. If the Delhi government has its way, glitzy swanky malls underground malls will be constructed just fifteen metres from the steps of the monument. The proposed plan shows disregard and insensitivity to history and the culture of the people living in the area.

To create the four layered basement the ground will have to be dug at least eighty feet which will causes severe stress to buildings within five hundred meters. In the year 2005 there was a high court order in favour of beautifying the area around the Jama Masjid with open green spaces for community interaction. The MCD had commissioned such a plan which was presented and approved by the court. Instead of this well integrated plan we suddenly hear the horror story of a new MCD plan converting the area into a commercial mall venture.

As a rule, the archeological survey of India does not permit any construction within a hundred metres of a protected monument. The Jama Masjid is a functioning mosque and is therefore not officially protected by the ASI as it belongs to the Muslim community. The Waqf Board is the custodian of the mosque as pronounced by the Delhi High court. However, does that mean we should strip it off from a heritage status and allow the builders and adventures of the state to threaten its survival? If the Masjid collapses, so will India’s secular legacy as represented by the adjoining mausoleum of Maulana Azad and the tomb of the Sufis Sarmad Shaheed, who challenged the orthodoxy of Aurangzeb resulting in his execution on the steps of the Jama Masjid.

Recent years have witnessed both state and central governments become active partners with the builder lobby in the hunt for prime real estate. In the shroud of development they remain insensitive to concerns of environment, heritage and the displacement of the poor. The Delhi government has been pushing for the construction of the Commonwealth games village on the last embankment left of the Yamuna river against the recommendations of reputed environmentalists. The proposed plan violates the right of the river to exist and threatens the city of Delhi and its residents in more ways than one. As concerned groups battle the state and its subsidiary bodies in the courts of law, builders have already begun to advertise these luxurious flats at phenomenal prices.

Thankfully, public outrage forced the government to abandon the underground tunnel which was to connect the proposed site of the Games village with South Delhi. The tunnel was to run through the historic Sunder nursery, Khusrau park and posed a serious threat to the pollution and foundations of Humayuns tomb, the adjacent monument. Now an equally ill conceived plan of a fly over running past Abdur Rahim Khan e Khanan’s tomb is in place. The connectivity will have the price of these flats soaring in the skies. Most developed countries stopped making expressways leading to the city about twenty five years ago. Hosting the commonwealth games is a wonderful idea but designated areas should be identified where sports villages can be built outside of cities already densely populated.

The New Master plan of Delhi has proposed commercial activity up to five hundred metres along both sides of the Metro. The estimated land worth of the three hundred km stretches are estimated at 750 billion U. S Dollars which actually equals the annual GNP of India. The high stakes involved in land deals can be judged by the fact that the MCD and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation are in a legal tussle as to who is to be the prime developer. While the state and the builders are all set to get richer, the residents will have to grapple with problems of health, congestion and shortage of everyday civic amenities.

Jawahar Lal Nehru wanted to preserve the sanctity of the Jama Masjid area as it remains an important historic site where the blood of freedom fighters was shed in plenty.
The vision of India Shining through the Mall mania has conveniently buried the visions of our founding fathers but hopefully some of their pleas are still heard. The vicinity of the mosque is the last area of the city which is representative of the dying culture of the Dilliwalas, the original residents of the city. Can the state please leave the piety of the area alone as the soul must take precedence over real estate value.

This piece was first published by the Hindustan Times.






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  • Shaheen Sultan Dhanji

    Thank you to Sadia Dehlvi for the article, and for the continued inspiration!

    The destruction of valuable heritage is poignantly aching. I have never visited Delhi, but, have engaged in learning about the various dynamics of the country, and its vast richness to history. Jama Masjid is one of the very places I would like to visit in Delhi. The commercial arena of life is very distressing, especially when a heritage is attacked by means of pro-creating wealth, as the malls would do just that! Why should Jama Masjid be compromised, as this place has a historical and cultural standing, where as mentioned by Sadia, “the blood of freedom fighters was shed in plenty.” The capitalists should seize their greed in destroying a ‘priceless’ monument.

    I am reminded of a poem by one of the PWA (progressive writers association) poet named Akhtar-ul-Iman,

    “Big cities, my friend, are for big projects:
    speeches of honoured ministers, processions of leaders,
    marches, demonstrations, unity and all that.
    This is the place for night people, decadence -
    whoever told you this was a center for learning?

    But there are those in here who are nameless;
    came to laugh at the golden city
    but they had a long way to go,
    those who came to build this world.
    They all had big hearts, big souls,
    were full of knowledge, wit,
    but in the politics of the world were small.
    A big city is for big works my friend!

    A breaking heart is not a rocket that you can see;
    in a big city, who can hear a scream? ”

    Let us in unison make them ‘hear our scream’, not let them destroy our heritage. The azaan of Jama Masjid cannot be replaced by the ringing cashiers of the plan to architect a mall….

  • Dastagir

    Sadia Deh`lavi : I am very cross with you. I am usually cross with the people i love .. so take it as a compliment ! You let us down… There must have been reasons of practicality… As it is… we are very few in number… and if we falter piece by piece.. then it would be zeroed. I am trying to gather myself.. pick up the thread.. but its not working. So i realise, in the heart of hearts… that the other person might be having his/her own complulsions. I hate compulsions.

    Sadia : You have been writing for years… basically i wanted you to set up a school in your old home. You sold it away (for whatever reason)… Now you have shrunk… Why did you not go for institution-building. You have a small family… you wouldnt have starved ! You are aware of the fact taht we are looked as the Nawabs who “sell” their homes, jewelry etc… People laugh behind our backs ! We are an “item number” thrown in…. as MJ Akbar rightly put it… Now you cannot do anything substantial, but write columns… That means, we lost out on one talent. You have 10 productive years of your life.. you could have built a fine school. Why didnt you do it…

    Kiran Bedi did it… (in old Delhi).. Nafisa Ali… is doing such superb work on AIDS… Nafisa to me.. symbolises ETERNAL BEAUTY. I have a picture of her on my desk.. smiling.. She has a mother’s twinkle in her eye. She is the most beautiful person… in and out…. and the best part is… Nafisa’s work for soceity. She has truly grown tall. This girl from La Martiniere, Calcutta….

  • Ajit

    Speaking as a Delhiite, I endorse everything that Ms. Dehlvi wrote about the city being smothered by the greedy nexus constituted by politicians, bureaucrats, and builders, but we are talking about a quadrilateral here, not a triangle.

    It isn’t just the Jama Masjid proper but large tracts of land around it that fall under the Waqf Board — which stands to gain by the commercialisation of the area.

    So — surprise, surprise! — the family and the supporters of the Shahi Imam are backing the proposal all the way. (As is the local Congress M.P..)

    Her point about Jawaharlal Nehru is ill-taken; it was during his regime, back in the 1950s, that the city walls of Shahjahanabad were brought down in the name of easing traffic. (The last remnants are those unhappy stubs of the old gatehouses that you see as you pass Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg into the Old City proper.)

    The “original residents of the city”? Delhi was old when the rulers of Ghazni and Ghor came calling, older still when Shahjahan came rolling up the Yamuna to build (yet another) city of Delhi.

  • Dastagir

    JAWAHARLAL NEHRU was the greatest Hindu. Savarkar, Hegdewar, Golwalkar, Advani, Modi… are pygmies. Nehru represents the BEAUTY of eclectic Hinduism. The RSS Chaddi-wallas are criminals and killers who need a safforn flag to justify their sadism. Sadism Destroys. Nehru preserved and built India. Nehru was the ARCHITECT of Modern India. He literally built India. Look at Pakistan… what happened… They mixed religion with governance. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had realised that this dangerous mix is a formula for disaster… So Indians : Stand up and Salute Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru…. the greatest Indian… and the greatest Hindu.

  • Shreekant Gupta

    As a Delhite, I am appalled at such ill-conceived plans that threaten to deprive us of our rich cultural heritage. I am all for new projects but ones that are sensibly executed. Indeed, the vibrant cultural heriatge of Delhi from all periods of its history could have enhanced its potential for sustainable tourism. But instead we have the bureaucrats who go about senselessly altering the cityscape in the name of progress. Hopefully our civil society will try to stop such asinine endeavours. But it is like fighting a thousand brushfires. Another disaster in the making is the so-called beautification plan around Hazrat Nizamuddin’s tomb in South Delhi.

  • Ajit

    Shreekant Gupta wrote: “But instead we have the bureaucrats who go about senselessly altering the cityscape in the name of progress. Hopefully our civil society will try to stop such asinine endeavours.”

    Well, to be fair to them, the much-maligned bureaucrats seem to be marching in step with “civil society”. Barring a handful of drawing-room activists, have you seen anyone actually protesting the plans for the so-called modernisation of the Jama Masjid area?

    Don’t forget that the plan has been approved by everyone from the Shahi Imam to the local Member of Parliament!

    Dastagir wrote: “JAWAHARLAL NEHRU was the greatest Hindu.”

    Oh please, the man was a self-confessed agnostic, someone whose approach to faith, any faith, was purely aesthetic. (For want of a better word!) He wasn’t a Hindu, or a Christian, or a Muslim, or anything at all — simply a prancing popinjay who thought his supposed intellect made him better than the practitioner of any faith.

    I have no idea why you keep dragging up comparisons with contemporary Pakistan. If compare you must, then do so with both nations as they were before 1991, when a bankrupt India was forced to break loose the socialistic shackles that her first Prime Minister had wrought.

    Your precious Nehru, Sir, was a failure on every front. I may accept if you insist that he acted with the best and purest of motives, but that serves only to underline the truth of the adage that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.

  • http://sidhusaaheb.blogspot.com Sidhusaaheb

    Mayawati is said to have pocketed about Rs. 150 crore through the Taj corridor project that was, thankfully, nipped in the bud before it could do much of actual damage to the most famous monument in India, as the honourable courts stepped in at the right time.

    I wonder how much money has changed hands in this case.

    Among the organs of state, the common citizen can only look towards the judiciary for help in this day and age. The executive and legislature are as corrupt as they come and, so, obviously, are not too enamoured of ‘judicial activism’.