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Masjid wall: airport builds and waits

Calcutta, April 17: Wall up. Go slow. Lie low. Wall up. That is precisely how work is in progress on the 15-foot-high boundary wall around the masjid complex adjoining Dum Dum airport

Caught in a controversy over its plans to take over the complex, the Airports Authority of India has decided to “go slow”. Days into the construction of the wall (on undisputed land), the authorities have decided to “lie low for some time before taking up the work again”.

The wall will initially block off the masjid-graveyard-mazhar plot from the vision of passersby and, ultimately, surround the entire plot.

Officials said the “wait-and-do” policy was a result of reports of simmering anger against the walling-up plans. The wall — now ending suddenly, a few feet from a mazhar on the disputed plot — had fired “immense suspicion and apprehension” within the community. Work would start “later” after “things cooled down”, the officials said.

The airports authority wants to take up the Mathpara Burra Masjid, two adjoining mazhars and a graveyard, right outside the airport boundary — to build a cargo-handling unit and an air-conditioning plant.

In a joint drive with the North 24-Parganas administration last month, the airport authorities made an attempt to take over the plot but retreated after being confronted with documents that “showed” the land belonged to the masjid committee.

The community in the area and the committee that maintains the complex is viewing the construction of the wall in this context. The 15-foot wall has already moved towards the masjid plot by more than 250 feet from the edge of Jessore Road. Sand- and earth-filling work on the adjoining — and undisputed — plot has also been completed. Materials for further construction are at hand, waiting to be used.

“No one would have apprehended anything had the attempt to take over the masjid not occurred last month,” said masjid committee joint secretary Ramzan Ali Mandal. “But, in the present context, it (the wall) appears to be anything but a ploy to inch closer and closer towards our plot,” he added.

“We are watching the events with a lot of apprehension,” said committee member Munna Sapui. “This could be a part of the authorities’ pressure tactics.” The members of the masjid committee are taking turns to keep an eye on the “activities” around the plot, he added.

Airport director J. Kongari dismissed talk of “pressure tactics”. “The wall was part of our original programme and we intend to go ahead with our plans for an air-conditioning plant and cargo-handling unit,” he said. “But we intend to keep the local sentiments in mind while going about our work,” he added.

Airports authority officials disclosed that engineers in the construction wing would be “asked to go slow on the project”.

A meeting of the authority brass was on the cards to chalk out the next phase of plans, they said. “Care” would have to be taken during the next round of work, they added.

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