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Go-slow on mosque reaches court

Calcutta, Jan. 15: Six years after a century-old masjid was razed at Barsara in Hooghly and over a year after the high court ordered its restoration, several wings of the administration are in the dock for alleged contempt of the judiciary.

The case came up for hearing on Monday but had to be deferred after the legal team representing the government asked for more time to reply to the contempt suit.

Justice Pranab Kumar Chattopadhyay, who is hearing the contempt case, had directed the administration in June 2002 to comply with a Wakf board order asking for the restoration of the Barsara Pirottar Masjid, about 65 km from Calcutta.

The fiasco dates back to May 1998, when the masjid was demolished by a section of villagers who were, according to the complaint later lodged with the Board of Wakfs, eyeing the property attached to it.

The local police station was informed, the board was told, but officials failed to turn up to resist the demolishers, despite having prior intelligence. The masjid was razed but the police failed to arrest the alleged mischief-makers for months.

The Wakf board took serious note of the incident in which “a mosque standing on the Wakf estate was demolished by some miscreants without any hindrance”. It also expressed “surprise… that no steps were taken to restrain them despite specific orders of the executive magistrate, Chinsurah (who was informed of the mutwalli’s apprehension that the mosque could be targeted)”.

The board ordered the construction of another mosque where the earlier prayer-house stood and directed the state’s chief secretary to “look into the matter”. The Hooghly administration was directed to arrest the offenders.

But, as the directives were ignored, Sheikh Luthfar Rahman, an estate trustee, moved the high court. After hearing both sides, Chattopadhyay ordered the administration to comply with the board’s orders in four weeks.

That was in June 2002. In June 2003, Rahman was forced to approach the judiciary again for relief after nothing happened in a year. He alleged that the administration was wilfully disregarding the orders of the board and the court and filed the contempt suit.

In their reply, representatives of the administration denied the allegations. A portion of the masjid gave way during a heavy downpour in 1998 and a section of villagers then demolished the structure that “stood in a dangerous way”, they said. The representatives added that there was no wilful disobedience.

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