Anointment of Shahi Imam's son has no legal sanctity: Govt, Wakf to HC

 The Centre and the Wakf Board on Thursday submitted before the Delhi High Court that the ceremony by Jama Masjid Shahi Imam anointing his son as his deputy and successor has no legal sanctity.

New Delhi: The Centre and the Wakf Board on Thursday submitted before the Delhi High Court that the ceremony by Jama Masjid Shahi Imam anointing his son as his deputy and successor has no legal sanctity.

The submission was made before a bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice R S Endlaw during arguments on three public interest litigations challenging the November 22 ceremony where Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid here Syed Ahmed Bukhari plans to anoint his son as Naib Imam who will be the next chief cleric.

The Board also told the court that it would be holding a meeting soon and action will be taken against Bukhari for what he has done.

The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta, and the Board made the submission in response to the court's query as to what is the legal position on the issue.

The ASG also suggested that the ceremony can go on without having any legal sanctity but at any other place than the Jama Masjid.

The bench, after hearing arguments of the petitioners, Centre and the Board, said it will pass orders.

The court, during arguments, also queried as to whether the Jama Masjid was under the supervision of the Board and if yes, what has it been doing on the issue.

It also observed that if the Board was the competent authority, "let them inquire and take what steps need to be taken".

While admitting that Jama Masjid is under its supervision, the Wakf Board said that the current Imam cannot on his own appoint his successor as the same would not have any legal sanctity without its ratification.

The Board also said that it is the 'muttawalli' of Jama Masjid and will be appointing a management committee for the same. It also said that the current Imam was appointed in 2000, but he was ratified as Imam only in 2006.

The petitioners, during the proceedings, contended the Imam is functioning in the position without having any legal sanctity and also alleged that he was running several shops around Jama Masjid in violation of the high court's 2005 order against the same.

The petitioners also alleged that the Centre and other authorities have been mute spectators to what has been happening. They also claimed that as far as Jama Masjid was concerned the Board is "redundant".

They also questioned how the Imam can treat the mosque "as his fiefdom" if the anointment ceremony was a personal event.

The Centre had, yesterday, said that the Mughal-era mosque Jama Masjid is a Wakf property and it has to decide how the rule of primogeniture applies on anointment of new Shahi Imam, which has come under challenge.

Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had also requested the court to declare the city's Jama Masjid as an ancient monument because of its national importance while contending that it needs to be protected.

The PILs filed by Suhail Ahmed Khan, Ajay Gautam and advocate V K Anand have said Jama Masjid is a property of Delhi Wakf Board and Bukhari as its employee cannot appoint his son as Naib Imam (deputy Imam).

The petitions said Shahi Imam had announced on October 30 that his 19-year-old son would succeed him as the next Shahi Imam and the ceremony of 'Dastarbandi' would be held on November 22.

"Despite knowing that Shahi Imam is an employee of the Wakf Board and it's the board which has the right to appoint an Imam, he (Bukhari) has declared his 19-year-old son to be a Naib Imam and is holding a dastarbandi ceremony for the said purpose, which is purely anti-Islamic," the pleas have said.

The pleas have alleged that the Shahi Imam was a public post and not the "personal property" of Syed Ahmed Bukhari and IMAMAT (the position of a divinely-appointed leader) is not transferable.

"It is submitted the position of an Shahi Imam is a public position and is connected with the sentiments and emotions of the entire community. Therefore, such an important position cannot be inherited by birth," one of the pleas has said.

It has also been contended that Bukhari is merely an employee of Delhi Wakf Board which is the only authority to choose and appoint the next Imam of Jama Masjid.

"No person can hold any title given to him or his ancestors by any erstwhile Emperor, King or Shah after the Constitution of India came into force," one of the PILs has said.

The PILs have also asked the court to declare as invalid the appointment of Bukhari as the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid.

Alleging illegal construction within the Masjid premises, one of the pleas sought a CBI probe. It also sought directions for Delhi Wakf Board to take over the affairs of Jama Masjid and appoint a new Shahi Imam.

The plea also asked ASI and the central government to declare Jama Masjid a protected monument.

Bukhari had recently sparked a controversy by announcing that he has invited Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the ceremony for anointing his son as the deputy Imam but did not invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi.