Produce record on notice to mosques for encroachment: Delhi HC to Railways

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday directed the railways to produce the record pertaining to notices of removal pasted on two mosques at Tilak Marg and Babar Road for being “unauthorised” structures on its land.

Justice Prateek Jalan granted time to the administration to file its response to the petition by the Delhi Waqf Board.

The board has claimed that these notices were “generic” and the mosques — Masjid Takia Babbar Shah near the Railway Bridge at Tilak Marg and Masjid Bachchu Shah, also known as Bengali Market Mosque — are not unauthorised and the land does not belong to the railways.

Asking the central government counsel if he was not “surprised” at the affixation of the notices in their present form that is without specific details, Justice Jalan directed that the relevant record be also brought to the court. “I want to see how the railway administration is issuing notice without mentioning property, date,” the judge said.

The central government lawyer submitted that the notices were issued by railway authorities and “this was done after full knowledge of the concerned persons”. “Let me file an affidavit. I checked the record. Notices have been pasted after giving everyone full knowledge,” he said.

“At the request of counsel for respondent, four weeks are granted for filing counter affidavit. Interim order to continue. Respondent is directed to produce the relevant record,” the court ordered.

On July 26, the court had passed an interim order directing the railways not to take any action pursuant to its notices pasted on the two mosques.

Observing that the notices were not signed, did not mention the authority under which they were issued and could have been pasted on any structure, the court had asked the Centre’s lawyer to take instructions on whether it was issued by the railways.

“It appears that the notice is a generic notice purportedly issued by the railway administration, Northern Railways, Delhi, which calls upon the public to voluntarily remove temples/mosques/mazars from railway land within 15 days failing which they would be removed by railway administration. The said notices are unsigned, undated and do not bear out the authority under which they are issued. For the moment, no action will be taken pursuant to these notices,” it had said.

Counsel for the petitioner had submitted that on July 19 and 20, notices were found to be pasted on the mosques which have been in existence for decades and upon inquiry it was found that the same had been issued from the office of the divisional railway manager.

Apprehending action by the railways, the lawyer had urged the court to “bind the hands” of the authorities in the meantime.

The petition has said the Bengali Market Mosque was approximately 250 years old and the Tilak Marg Mosque is 400 years old and the notices affixed in their walls are liable to be quashed.

“Both the mosques are in existence since centuries and there are two duly registered agreements of 1945 between the Governor General in Council through its agent-Chief Commissioner of Delhi and the Sunni Majlis Auqaf in respect of both the mosques transferring management of those mosques to the Sunni Majlis Auqaf (petitioner’s predecessor) without any limitation as to tenure. The said document shows that the mosques were in existence and were operational in 1945 also,” the petition said.

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“Through the impugned notice, the railway administration has urged that the mosque/temples/shrines be removed from their land within 15 days failure to comply with the notice will lead to action by the railway administration to reclaim the land. Thus, the very existence of the aforesaid waqf property is in jeopardy because of the unwarranted, arbitrary and unreasonable impugned action of the respondents,” added the plea.

The petition said that the two mosques cater to a large number of worshippers and are in use for five times daily compulsory prayers besides larger congregational prayers on Fridays and Eid.

“Neither the land underneath the mosques under reference belongs to the respondents nor the mosques under reference are unauthorised”, it has asserted.

The petitioner has also said that in 2023, at least seven waqf properties were demolished overnight in a “brazen display of highhandedness” and in the present case, the apprehension is that the “design is to demolish the mosques/waqf properties somehow”.

The matter would be heard next on January 30.

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