Jama Masjid needs special care

Updated on Dec 25, 2021 02:30 PM IST

The Shahi Imam said as a stopgap arrangement the mosque management was forced to use regular building material to repair the structure

Cracks seen on the walls of Jama Masjid in New Delhi, India (Photo by Sanchit Khanna/ Hindustan Times)
Cracks seen on the walls of Jama Masjid in New Delhi, India (Photo by Sanchit Khanna/ Hindustan Times)
BySadia Akhtar

The iconic Jama Masjid is in urgent need of conservation as several portions of the Mughal-era monument has suffered serious structural damage including the main dome, minarets and the courtyard, the Shahi Imam of the mosque Syed Ahmed Bukhari has said.

Bukhari said he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 6, to direct the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to pitch in with specialists to conserve the seventeenth century building since the mosque is not among the ASI-protected monuments. The same letter was marked to the ASI (Delhi Circle).

The Shahi Imam said as a stopgap arrangement the mosque management was forced to use regular building material to repair the structure, which the experts said, will alter the original structure.

He said the mosque authorities had to use cement to repair the damage to the dome and the mezzanine floor to prevent seepage in November. Conservation experts say use of normal building material could alter the original structure, and added that lime mortar was used as plaster in the monuments built in the medieval period. This is why use of cement is discouraged, they said.

Before the repairs were undertaken in November, Bukhari approached both the Prime Minister’s Office and ASI after a thunderstorm and heavy showers led to the collapse of a red sandstone slab from one of the mosque’s minarets. The heavy slab also damaged the mosque courtyard. The mosque’s dome and a mezzanine floor is also in dire need of repairs with deep cracks running between the slabs and the pillars supporting the terrace.

Urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to direct the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to inspect the monument and carry out necessary repairs, Bukhari said the central heritage body has been conserving the masjid under special arrangement.

Bukhari had also written to the Prime Minister in 2017, following which the ASI was directed to undertake a survey of the damage and help with the conservation.

Earlier this month, three Members of Parliament (MPs) raised the issue of conservation of the Jama Masjid in the House. Samajwadi Party’s Shafiqur Rahman Barq said that ASI was not carrying out repairs despite the mosque’s rapidly deteriorating condition. Kunwar Danish Ali of the Bahujan Samaj Party also raised the issue of the dilapidated condition of the Jama Masjid, and asked if the government will work towards saving the legacy and heritage of the mosque. Ali said that the mosque was visited by foreign heads of states and diplomats but it was not getting any attention from the ASI. He said the ASI manages repair and conservation of several monuments that were not under its ambit, and was doing the same for Jama Masjid, until three years ago.

PV Abdul Wahab from the IUML (Indian Union Muslim League) also raised the issue.

In response to Ali’s question, Union culture and tourism minister G Kishan Reddy said the government could take up a proposal for the mosque’s repair provided it came from the Delhi government. “The ASI protects over 4,000 monuments in the country. The Jama Masjid is not among these monuments, but if the state government gave us any proposal seeking ASI intervention for maintenance through the central government, we can take up the proposal,” said Reddy.

Mughal emperor Shahjahan built the mosque in 1656.

During the Lok Sabha proceedings on Monday, TMC MP Sajda Ahmed asked the culture minister if the government had conducted a survey to assess the damage and the scope of work at Jama Masjid. She also sought details about the funds that ASI had allocated for repairs if any. In a written response, tourism minister Reddy said that the ASI provided funds for the conservation of Jama Masjid as and when required and shared expenditure details on conservation of Jama Masjid between 2017-20.

Bukhari said that Jawaharlal Nehru had given a go-ahead to repairs and conservation support at the mosque as a special case. “Prime Minister Nehru met my father, then Shahi Imam, along with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who sought that work is carried out Jama Masjid as a special case. The practise of repairs by ASI is on then. I believe that if an accurate account of the long-term arrangement is shared with Prime Minister Modi, the central government will pitch in with support,” said Bukhari.

AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan, who is the chairman of the Delhi Waqf Board, also visited the mosque earlier this month, and promised to pitch in with help. Bukhari said while all help was welcome, the scope of work required at the mosque could only be taken up the ASI since the Waqf board might not have sufficient funds and expertise required for repairs.

Historian and author Swapna Liddle said that the conservation of Jama Masjid needed to be a priority for all stakeholders since it was not always possible to reverse the damage sustained. “The priority should be to stop the mosque from deteriorating since damage can often be irreversible. If the stones fall down and collapse, the damage cannot be turned back. The first response should be to avoid such situations through comprehensive conservation support,” said Liddle.

DN Dimri, former ASI joint director-general, said regular cement is not used for conserving monuments. Dimri said that as per the conservation principle, materials not used in the making of the monument are not used for conservation work. “As per the ASI’s conservation manual, cement is not allowed for conservation because these monuments demonstrate the use of lime mortar and not cement. The ASI has carried out repairs at Jama Masjid from time to time in the past as part of a special arrangement, but cement was never used,” said Dimri.

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