Lucknow, July 13: The Taj Mahal was today declared Sunni Wakf property on the ground that it is the grave of a woman whose emperor husband was a Sunni.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the monument’s custodian since 1920, said it would challenge the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Wakf Board’s verdict in the high court.
With the BJP protesting the judgment and asking the Centre to step in, the issue has the potential to stoke controversy at a time when the Imrana row was dying down.
The Wakf board ' asked to decide the ownership of the Taj by Allahabad High Court ' cited the Friday prayers at the heritage structure in support of its judgment. According to a Supreme Court ruling, a site or a building is considered Wakf property “by user” if it is used for religious purposes at a stretch.
“(From) today, the ASI ceases to have absolute right of possession over the monument,” said board chairman Hafiz Usman. “Henceforth, we would have the right to manage all religious rituals carried out inside the Taj Mahal premises.”
He ordered his office to immediately register the Taj ' declared a nationally protected monument in 1920 and listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1983 ' as Wakf property. The verdict brings the Taj under dual administration. The ASI will continue to look after it but the board will have a say in its running and maintenance.
For instance, the board will decide how often namaz can be held at the monument, where prayers are now allowed only on Fridays. The ASI will not be able to decide on its own which material to use for repairs.
The board will appoint a muttawali (caretaker) for the monument after a meeting with the ASI and the state government. Under Wakf rules, the caretaker should get 7 per cent of the revenue from the Taj, to be spent on its maintenance.
The ASI earns Rs 15 crore a year in Taj revenues; so the caretaker’s share should be Rs 1.05 crore. According to the board, emperor Shah Jahan, who got the monument built, was its first muttawali.
The Taj will now be “like a house owned by two warring brothers, no one keen on its proper maintenance”, said the assistant director of ASI, Agra, S.K. Sharma. “The order is not against the ASI, it is against the Taj Mahal.”
Reading from his 11-page judgment, Usman said he accepted the petitioner’s claim that in Abdul Hamid Lahori’s authoritative Badshah-namah, the Taj has been described as Sunni property.
Also, the board, which owns Sunni graves in the state, considers the Taj as one and insists that emperor Shah Jahan and his wife were Sunnis.
A board member, Mohammed Irfan Bedar, had moved Allahabad High Court last November claiming that the Taj was Wakf property. The court had referred the matter to the Wakf board, a quasi-judicial body authorised to hear such property disputes.
This prompted at least six other claimants ' including the Shia Wakf board, a Sangh parivar activist and a descendant of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar ' to jump into the fray. Their claims were rejected, either by the high court or the Sunni board.
Former BJP state president Vinay Katiyar said: “The Sunni board is unnecessarily communalising the issue. There is no evidence to show it is a Sunni property. I am going to campaign against it.”