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Delhi HC orders son of former imam to vacate Waqf Board-owned mosque property near India Gate, says can’t convert places of worship into residence

Delhi High Court ordered Zahir Ahmed, son of former Imam of Masjid Zabta Ganj in Delhi to vacate the property where he has been staying even after death of his father and appointment of a new Imam in 1982

On March 10, the Delhi High Court ruled that it is illegal to convert places of worship into residences and their occupation by those who take care of the premises. Dismissing a petition by a person who is staying at a Waqf Board property, the court handed over the property to the Delhi Waqf Board and ordered the petitioner to pay Rs 15 lakh for the ‘illegal occupation’ for years.

The petition was filed by Zahir Ahmed, the son of the former Imam of Masjid Zabta Ganj, after Chanakyapuri Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) and Delhi Waqf Board (DWB) had issued him eviction notices to vacate the Waqf property. He had filed a writ suit in the Delhi High Court asking for reinstatement in the property and contesting the eviction orders, but the court dismissed the petition and said that any religious property, including Waqf Board property, can’t be used for personal purposes.

Zahir Ahmed came into occupation of the impugned property due to his father’s position as an Imam of the Masjid Zabta Ganj, Man Singh Road, India Gate, New Delhi. However, he continued to occupy the plot located next to the mosque after his father’s death, and even after a new imam was appointed at the mosque more than 40 years ago.

Advocate Khan Zulfiquar Khan, the petitioner’s attorney, claimed that because the petitioner had been in continuous and uninterrupted ownership of the home for many years, he was not liable to be ejected. He also stated that earlier the house was separated from the mosque by a wall, but the wall was demolished by the mosque in 2005.

The Waqf Board rejected his claim over the property, and issued him several eviction notices, saying that the entire property belongs to the board as it was allotted to the board by the Delhi administration in 1945. The board said that Ahmed and his alleged workers were unauthorized occupants and encroachers in the Waqf property and cannot claim any rights in the property.

Hearing the arguments, the High Court agreed with the Waqf Board and held that Zahir Ahmed does not have right over the property just because he is staying there for a long time. ‘The family of an Imam in a mosque cannot claim any rights to the mosque’s property’, stated Justice Prathiba M. Singh, because the waqf owns the land and the Imam is only chosen to lead prayers and care for the waqf’s assets.

She remarked, “The Imam occupies the property in a capacity which is fiduciary in nature on behalf of the Waqf and any attempt to claim independent rights in the property would be impermissible.”

“The Mosque was allotted by way of Gazette notification issued in terms of the agreement registered on 3rd July 1945, by the Delhi Administration, in favour of the Delhi Waqf Board. Since then, the Waqf Board is in occupation of the property,” she continued. SDM, Chanakyapuri, undertook an eviction drive and handed over the property’s possession to DWB on March 5, 2020.

The court observed, that the present petition is yet another example of the manner in which public places of worship are converted into private tenements and rights are sought to be claimed by their caretakers and their extended families, in an illegal and unauthorised manner.

“Such public places of worship are converted into residences and are occupied by the persons who take care of the said places including by their extended families, domestic help and other trespassers, which would be contrary to law. In some cases, this Court has also noticed that the said places of worship are extended beyond the allotted land and are converted into commercial property, and rents/lease amounts are also sought to be collected in an illegal and unauthorised manner,” the court pronounced.

The mosque was allocated 0.095 acres of land in 1945 and is situated in the heart of Delhi, close to India Gate.

“The Petitioner herein, on a query from the Court, specifically admits that there is no title document to the property in question in his favour, which obviously there cannot be. The Petitioner’s father was an Imam in the mosque and in the Court’s opinion, it could be due to this reason that the Petitioner unauthorisedly came into occupation of the said property,” the court added.

The Court noted that the petitioner continued his unauthorised use and invasion of the land even after an independent Imam was appointed for the mosque in 1981. “The Petitioner who was the son of the Imam, being merely a family member, has himself occupied and has permitted others to occupy this property for several decades without any rights. An independent Imam was appointed in the said property/mosque in 1981. However, in an illegal manner the Petitioner continued to encroach and occupy the property next to the mosque,” it proclaimed.

Additionally, the Court asserted, that the site is a prime piece of real estate. It mentioned that photographs demonstrate unauthorised construction at the site. “An electricity meter is also visible in the photographs. A number of persons were in occupation of the said property illegally,” it commented.

The Court dismissed the writ petition stating that it is devoid of any merit and hence liable to be dismissed. The Court declared, “the Petitioner has been unable to show any title to the property in question and keeping in mind the nature of the property which is a place of worship allotted to the Waqf, in order to uphold public policy and to curb illegalities of this nature, this Court holds that the Petitioner is liable to pay occupation charges to the Waqf Board for unauthorised occupation as also costs of the litigation.”

Ahmed stated in a writ suit submitted to the Delhi High Court that he and his family had been residing on the property for many years and that a wall separated it from the mosque. He argued that the wall was destroyed in 2005 by Mohd. Asad, the current Imam of the mosque. The Waqf Act, 1995 was then invoked after the high court issued a number of orders in response to writ petitions submitted by Ahmed and other property occupants.

Instead, the Waqf Board argued before the High Court that the petitioner’s father was carrying out the responsibilities of an Imam in the mosque and that the petitioner had acquired the land as a result of his father’s positon. It argued that the DWB was granted ownership of the mosque by the Delhi Administration in 1945. The Waqf Board has since taken possession of the land. Hence, it contended that Ahmed and his purported employees were intruders on the Waqf property and therefore had no right to claim ownership.

Also Read: Amanatullah Khan warns against demolishing mosques inside Govt premises in Central Vista project, Imam says don’t fall for propaganda

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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