Jama Masjid, the 17th century mosque owned by the Waqf Board and managed by Jama Masjid committee, under the controversial guidance of Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari. It is a holy religious institution that has been exploited for various purposes over the years. People use it to gain Muslim vote bank and fundamentalists use its protected atmosphere to hold secretive, seditious meetings!
Jama Masjid has also been turned into a commercial entity. Tourists have been shelling up to Rs 300 for carrying camera inside the mosque, and are being charged for visiting one of the towers. The mosque has been burning holes in pockets of visitors for decades now. The maintainence is poor too. There have been allegations that the funds allotted for its maintenance is misued.
One way the corrupt practice can be stopped is by bringing the site under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). For starters, it would help manage the site as well as stop the old unfair practices of entry charges. Archaeological survey of India has done justice and conserved almost all the monuments under it and does not even charge hiked priced for the facilities. There is also the Right of Information Act valid to the body as it is under the government which guarantees zero tolerance to malpractices.
The mosque is a historical monument commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, so it needs to be protected by the ASI. Over the past decade, the court has repeatedly asked the ASI to explain why it did not declare the historic Jama Masjid a protected monument. Well, the time may have come, much to the dislike of Shahi Imam.
The Shahi Imam, a controversial figure who is infamous for creating political divisiveness based on religious lines, defended the way Jama Masjid is presently managed, saying that the entry fee was used for the upkeep of the monument and to pay salaries of the staff. A source in the Waqf Board said, “A fixed amount should be deposited with the board from the revenue received from entry fee. The committee has been charging fee since 1970s but no accounting has ever been done to know where the revenue is used.” These are noteworthy loopholes. If there have been no records kept, how will we ever know how much money has been pumped into Jama Masjid? How much went into its maintenance and how much was pocketed?
One of the biggest mistakes committed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to have written to the Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari, assuring him that the government won’t declare it a protected monument. Of course, it was an arrangement made keeping Jama Masjid’s future administration in mind.
The good news is that the High Court will soon declare Jama Masjid a protected monument so that it can come under the Centre’s control and is regularly maintained, So that the glorious, historical significance of the religious place remains in fine health.
The only argument Shahi Imam appears to have is in the form of a question: Where was the Archaeological Survey of India for decades and why didn’t they declare Jama Masjid a protected monument earlier? They also said entry charges were imposed only for those carrying professional cameras whereas Archaelogical survey of India promotes Cameras as they only glorify the monument!