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Published in the 16-31 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Court order for relocation of mosque

The existence of a beautiful, double-storeyed mosque known as Sidha Jama Masjid on National Highway no. 6 in a village of Midnapur district, West Bengal, is in danger. People offer their five times prayers daily in the century-old mosque. The mosque is in no way a hindrance to free flow of traffic. Light and heavy vehicles ply on the highway round the clock. A concrete wall was erected between the the highway and the mosque to save the mosque from the vibrations and impact of heavy traffic. 

National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), a central government undertaking, wanted to widen the highway in view of the increased traffic. They decided to shift the mosque to some other place and started proceedings to acquire the masjid land under Land Acquisition Act. Local Muslims resisted NHAI’s actions and brought the matter to the notice of West Bengal Minorities Commission. The commission asked NHAI for explanations but it ignored the commission’s notice. After this, Muslims lodged a complaint with the the High Court.

The verdict of Kolkata High Court on 12 July 2004 came as a bolt from the blue for the Muslims. The single judge bench of Boren Ghosh ordered shifting of the mosque from its present location. The order was passed to shift the mosque “in public interest” and this was the first verdict of this nature. An appeal has been filed in the High Court’s division bench against the verdict. There is fear among Muslims that if the division bench upholds the single bench’s order, it will create a precedent for the whole country and mosques anywhere may be shifted on any excuse “in public interest” such as laying of railway lines, widening of roads, extension of airports or runways and building of parks. 

The Dum Dum airtport authories in Kolkata wanted to acquire the land of a century-old mosque for security reasons and extention of the airport. The case is still pending in the court for years. The Kolkata airport had also made efforts to acquire a large area where a mosque, madrasah, Eidgah and tomb of a saint and a graveyard are situated. If Sidha Jama Masjid judgement is upheld by the High Court and the Supreme Court all these mosques could be acquired citing Sidha case as a precedent (Azad Hind Urdu daily, Kolkata). 
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