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Sunni board says Shah Jahan gave it Taj ownership, SC asks for papers

The board has a week to produce the signatures of the emperor who died in 1666, almost 18 years after the monument he built in the memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was completed.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2018 16:19 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Taj Mahal,Shah Jahan,Taj ownership dispute
File photo of the Taj Mahal in Agra. (AFP photo)

That is a tall order.

The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf Board, which is battling the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for ownership of Taj Mahal, was on Tuesday asked by the Supreme Court to produce documents signed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to prove its claim over the monument.

The board has a week to produce the signatures of the emperor who died in 1666, almost 18 years after the monument he built in the memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was completed.

Hearing a 2010 appeal filed by the ASI, the court directed the board to produce documents in support of its claim that none other than Shah Jahan declared the Taj a wakf property.

“Who in India will believe it belongs to the wakf board? These kind of issues must not waste the time of the Supreme Court,” a bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra told the board.

Wakf is an endowment of land or property by a Muslim for a religious, educational or charitable purpose.

In 2010, the ASI had petitioned the court against the wakf board’s July 2005 decision ordering that the Taj be registered as the latter’s property. There is a stay on the order.

Appearing for the board, senior advocate VV Giri said Shah Jahan executed a wakfnama in favour of the board, a submission challenged by ASI. “Then you show us the original deed executed by Shah Jahan. Show us the signature,” the bench shot back, granting a week’s time on Giri’s request.

CJI Misra, however, had a few questions for the board.

“How did he (Shah Jahan) sign the wakfnama? He was in jail and used to view the monument while in custody,” the country’s top judge said.

Shah Jahan died in the Agra fort where he was put under house arrest by son Aurangzeb in July 1658 following a bitter war of succession.

The bench also reminded the board that the 17th century monument and other heritage structures built by the Mughals passed on to the British after the end of the Mughal rule. After Independence, the monuments vested with the government and were being managed by ASI.

ASI advocate ADN Rao said there was no wakfnama. “Under the 1858 proclamation, the properties taken over from the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, by the British vested with the Queen. By the 1948 act, the buildings were taken over by the Indian government,” he said.

The board had in July 2005 given the order on a petition filed by one Mohammad Irfan Bedar. Bedar had moved the Allahabad high court because the board delayed its decision on the petition he filed in 1998. It was on the high court’s order that the board looked at his petition and claimed ownership of the Taj.

First Published: Apr 10, 2018 23:06 IST