Historic Jama Masjid a step away from new look

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi: The 450-year-old Jama Masjid in the old quarters of the capital has to cross one more hurdle to get a complete face job, which would beautify its surrounding area and turn the shrine into a world class heritage zone.

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It is awaiting a no-objection certificate from the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC), the monitoring body for urban landscape and planning aesthetics in the capital.

“We sent back the redevelopment plan that the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) submitted to us with a few amendments and recommendations, but we have not yet issued a no-objection certificate for the project. We will do so soon. Till such time, I would say that the plan is still under consideration,” DUAC secretary Navneet Kumar told IANS.

The revised Jama Masjid Redevelopment Plan with the changes and “add-ons” is with the DUAC but is not on the agenda of the body’s June 12 meeting.

“No local body is authorised to issue a completion certificate to a project without an NOC (no objection certificate) from the DUAC,” said Kumar. He, however, felt that the area around the shrine needs to be spruced up.

The Jama Masjid, commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1656, was built by nearly 5,000 workers over a period of six years.

The name traces its roots to Friday prayers (namaaz) that are usually held in a “jami masjid” or Friday mosque. The courtyard of the Jama Masjid in Delhi can accommodate up to 25,000 worshippers.

The MCD’s Rs.12 billion plan hinges on the restoration of 46 acres surrounding the mosque. It includes raising the height of the area around the Jama Masjid, landscaping a Mughal garden, a proposed shopping complex at the basement, a three-level underground parking, redeveloping the existing Meena Bazar with 650 air-conditioned shops, a new road and traffic management plan around the Pardah Bagh area and a fire station.

According to sources, the DUAC has objected to a “heritage mall” that the MCD wanted to build at the Meena Bazar, the market enclave at the base of the staircase leading to the mosque.

History cites that during Shah Jahan’s reign the Meena Bazar used to be an exclusive market for members of the royal household.

The DUAC is also against a multi-storied shopping complex that the MCD wants to build along the Dargah of Sheikh Kallimullah and a service utility duct from the mosque to the adjacent Subhash Marg.

V.K. Bugga, chief town planner of the MCD, said the civic body will get the plan approved by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as the Sunehri Masjid and the Red Fort were located in the vicinity (within 30 metres) of the Jama Masjid. He said the changes recommended by the DUAC will be kept in mind while implementing the project.

The regeneration plan was drawn up by the MCD following a court directive and a public interest litigation on the plight of the heritage monument.

The main shrine itself is being currently restored by the ASI, officials said.

Commenting on the plan, heritage management consultant Amita Baig, who is associated with the World Monuments Fund, said any redevelopment of the Jama Masjid should be done in consultation with the public.

“The views of the people must be sought. After all, it’s their masjid. The users and service-providers must benefit from any such project. But I think it can be developed into a great social area if the MCD develops a better traffic system, removes the shopping area and cleans up the litter,” she told IANS.

The area around the mosque is an unplanned mess of kiosks hawking daily wares and eateries plying street food. Piles of garbage intersperse the make-shift shops, adding to the squalor.