Places of Worship Converted Into Private Tenements by Priests, Imams & Rights Claimed in Illegal Manner: High Court

The Delhi High Court has expressed concern over conversion of public places of worship into private tenements after which rights are sought to be claimed over the property by priests, pandits, imams, caretakers and their families in an illegal and unauthorised manner.

The high court said places of worship are converted into residences and occupied by people taking care of the premises, including their extended families, domestic help and other trespassers, which is be contrary to law.

“In some cases, this court has also noticed that the said places of worship are extended beyond the allotted land and are converted into commercial property, and rents/ lease amounts are also sought to be collected in an illegal and unauthorised manner.

“Even in the present case it is not clear as to the basis on which so many persons who are described as workers’ were inducted by the petitioner into the property and they continued to occupy the property for several years,” Justice Prathiba M Singh said.

The high court was dealing with a petition related to a prime property located next to Masjid Zabta Ganj on Man Singh Road near India Gate.

Petitioner Zahir Ahmed filed the petition seeking de-sealing of the property, which consists of one room, kitchen, bathroom and some space adjacent to the mosque. He also sought a restraint order against alleged harassment being caused to him and sought permission to reconstruct the property.

The high court dismissed the petition holding that the petitioner being an “unauthorised occupant” and an encroacher in the property belonging to the Delhi Waqf Board has no legs to stand in the plea which was devoid of any merit and directed him to pay Rs 15 lakh to the Delhi Waqf Board within 8 weeks considering the duration of illegal occupation of the premises and the location of the property.

Besides, it also asked him to deposit Rs 2 lakh as costs with the Delhi Waqf Board within 8 weeks.

“The present petition is yet another example of the manner in which public places of worship are converted into private tenements and rights are sought to be claimed by priests, Pandits, Imams, caretakers and their families, in an illegal and unauthorised manner.

“Such public places of worship are converted into residences and are occupied by the persons who take care of the said places including by their extended families, domestic help and other trespassers, which would be contrary to law,” Justice Singh said.

It also said the petitioner has been unable to show any title to the property, and keeping in mind the nature of the property which is a place of worship allotted to the Waqf, in order to uphold public policy and to curb illegalities of this nature, this court holds that the petitioner is liable to pay occupation charges to the Waqf Board for unauthorised occupation as also costs of the litigation.

The petitioner said he and his family have been living on the property for several decades and that it was separated from the mosque by a wall.

He challenged various eviction orders passed by the Waqf Board and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate concerned and sought his reinstatement in the property.

The high court, however, said the petitioner and the three individuals whom he represented, were clearly unauthorised occupants and encroachers who had no right in the property.

“The family of an Imam in a mosque cannot claim any rights in the property of the mosque, as the property vests in the Waqf and the Imam is merely appointed for the purposes of conducting prayers and taking care of the Waqf property. The Imam occupies the property in a capacity which is fiduciary in nature on behalf of the Waqf and any attempt to claim independent rights in the property would be impermissible,” it said.

The court said the petitioner, who was the son of the Imam, was merely a family member and has himself occupied and permitted others to occupy the property for several decades without any rights.

It noted that an independent Imam was appointed in the property/ mosque in 1981, however, in an illegal manner the petitioner continued to encroach and occupy the prime property next to the mosque.

It also noted that the petitioner currently lives with his son in South Delhi’s Sukhdev Vihar and he could not have claimed any rights in the property. The court said he has embroiled the Waqf Board in this long drawn litigation on a completely false and incorrect premise.

The high court passed the direction that the Waqf Board shall secure the land allotted to it by way of the gazette notification issued in terms of the agreement registered on July 3, 1945 and it shall ensure that no land beyond the 0.095 acres is occupied by any person including the current Imam or his family or occupants on his behalf.

“The allotted land shall be used only for the purposes of the allotment, that is, to run the mosque and no illegal use shall be permitted,” it said.

The court said, “In the facts and circumstances of this case, it is deemed appropriate to direct the concerned SDM along with the Delhi Waqf Board officials to conduct a proper demarcation and ensure that the land occupied by the mosque is as per its allotment and no one is able to illegally occupy any portion beyond what is permissible. The demarcation to be carried out within 4 weeks”.

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