Residents’ body using Lodi-era tomb as office, Delhi high court seeks explanation
An octagonal domed tomb in the middle of a fenced garden, next to upscale Defence Colony market, remains inconspicuous behind the veil of foliage.
Constructed 500 years ago, the notified heritage structure — christened the gumti of Shaikh Ali — is serving as the local residents’ welfare association’s (RWA) office since 1960 and is out of bounds to the public.
The ancient edifice dating to the Lodi period (the last dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, 1451-1526) has drawn the Delhi high court’s attention after Rajeev Suri, a resident of Defence Colony, moved a petition seeking its restoration and proper maintenance.
Suri sought directions to the Delhi government to declare the gumti a protected monument.
In a recent order, a bench of chief justice Rajendra Menon and justice V Kameshwar Rao has directed the Defence Colony Welfare Association (DCWA) to file an affidavit explaining how its office has been functioning from the ancient monument. “In case the respondent four (DCWA) is found functioning there without any authority of law, we may consider them evicting forthwith from the area in question,” said the order passed on September 19.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), one of the respondents, is likely to submit its response before the next date of hearing, October 12. A senior ASI official said an appropriate reply would be filed. “As the matter is sub judice, we can’t say much about it,” he said.
The DCWA said it will file an affidavit. But the association maintained that the gumti has no historical significance and is being made an issue ‘unnecessarily’.
“It was just another structure when a huge parcel of land was purchased to rehabilitate personnel of armed forces, who came to Delhi from Pakistan after Independence. We could have demolished it like several other buildings, which were razed down at other places. We decided to retain the gumti, and converted it into our office. It was abandoned and in ruins otherwise,” DCWA general secretary HS Bedi said.
Defence Colony is among the earliest colonies set up in south Delhi soon after Independence. The vast vacant land near Kotla Mubarakpur village was earmarked to lay out settlement to relocate officers from the armed forces. Divided in five blocks, the colony has more than 1,600 plots and 18 DDA flats.
“A garrison engineer, who monitored allocation of plots and development of land, would sit here at the gumti. This became DCWA office later,” Bedi added.
Several alterations have been incorporated to the structure over the years. Crowned by a dome, the gumti once had a chhajja, which has disappeared. Ornamented with intricate kangura (motif) battlement, the building originally was a rubble masonry construction with plaster coating.
Stone brackets that would have supported the chhajja are still visible. Besides, original stone surface and its features are covered with layers of whitewash presently. Seven arched openings are closed with brick masonry and the eighth one has a door used as ingress. The walls are riddled with aluminium glass doors and windows, air-conditioners jutting out form the walls, and electric fittings and fixtures.
But details are not available to establish the identity of Shaikh Ali. “Nothing can be said about who Shaikh Ali was. Maulvi Zafar Hasan, 100 years ago, said this was a traditional name then,” Swapna Liddle, historian and author, said.
In Zafar Hasan’s compilation of Delhi’s monument first published in 1916, the gumti is mentioned as a tomb and had two unknown ruined graves inside the building.
The monument is listed as a heritage site as per a notification issued in February 2010 by the Urban Development Department, which comprises 775 such buildings. “The area was actually a forest, full of kikar trees. There were no graves inside the gumti. This structure was used as station or resting place for people who would carry post. The courier would take a break and tie horses here. Next courier proceeded on another horse,” said an RWA member.
According to Suri’s petition, the Delhi chapter of ASI identified the gumti as a monument of national importance, and after inspection a proposal was put up to declare it a protected monument in 2004. A notification was issued seeking objections before issuing final notice, which has not come out yet.
“During a meeting with then culture minister, it was decided that the RWA would continue running its office from the site and the ASI would maintain it. However, final notification in this regard could not be issued,” said Bedi.