While Muslims across the country are heading for the holy city of Mecca, Haj pilgrims from western Uttar Pradesh (UP), who had hoped to benefit from the newly-constructed Ala Hazrat Haj House in Ghaziabad, have been left disappointed, as the facility could not be opened this year due to pending litigation at the National Green Tribunal (NGT). With Congress staging protests outside the Haj House and Muslim groups in the state discomfited with the local administration’s handling of the matter, the controversy has taken a political hue.
Spread across 4.3 acres of land, the Ala Hazrat Haj House was inaugurated by former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and former state minority minister Azam Khan on 4 September 2016, while a petition at the NGT was filed on 2 September last year by Akash Vashistha, convener, Society for Protection of Environment and Biodiversity, along with three other petitioners.
Akash Vashistha told The Sunday Guardian, “We do not harbour any socio-religious sentiments. We protect riverbeds and the environment. After we had filed the petition in NGT, the matter had become sub-judice and yet the former state government allowed inauguration of the facility. According to the UP Development Act 1973, Section 13, any amendment that changes the character of land in the layout or zonal plan or master plan is not permitted. The current building in question has been categorised as a ‘community facility’, while the nature of the land it is build on continues to be part of the flood plains. This means that the government and the authorities brutally violated Section 13 of the 1973 Act.”
Vashistha added, “The stand of the former and the current governments on the matter has not been much different though. The current government did defend the building. Things will become clearer once the new status report is submitted by the current government to the NGT at the next hearing.”
According to the petitioners, Hindon river’s mainstream flow goes through the part of land that comes under Khasra (unit to measure land) numbers 1402 and 1403 that has now been encroached upon for the use of Haj House. However, the UP government in its 3 August hearing in NGT said that the petitioners’ claim on Khasra (plot) numbers 1402 and 1403 is wrong as the Hindon river’s flow is far from the current location of Haj House. While the NGT has ordered the petitioners and the UP government to re-submit their status reports by 24 August, matters continue to escalate on the ground.
Earlier this week, the Congress had staged a protest that witnessed approximately 300-400 protesters and led to the arrests of three UP Congress workers after the protests turned violent, resulting in 15 men getting injured and a nearby Metro pillar getting damaged due to stone pelting. Congress’ state Minority Department head, Siraj Mehendi, told The Sunday Guardian, “We did not get our arrested members bailed immediately because it was mutually decided that the administration needs to understand the plight of the pilgrims and release the Congress workers who were protesting for a public cause. The authorities have refused to address the hardship that the pilgrims are facing; instead, they wanted us not to protest against the neglect towards thirsty old pilgrims who had no shelter and were waiting around the Haj House for its gates to be opened on Monday.”
According to local officials, the UP state Haj Committee, chaired by Azam Khan, does not yet have the management rights of the Ala Hazrat Haj House because the executing agency, Construction & Design Services (C&DS), had not yet handed over the Haj House to them as construction work was still pending on its fourth, fifth and sixth floors due to a paucity of funds.
According to sources in the Haj Committee, the clash is also because of the different bosses leading the state minority ministry and the state Haj Committee.
According to C&DS, Rs 3,577 lakh was sanctioned in February 2014 and the cost was revised to Rs 4,919 lakh later and that amount, too, was sanctioned, but the agency was yet to receive the balance amount.
Other than administrative and legal roadblocks, the Ala Hazrat Haj House seems to have been caught in a political mesh too. According to sources in the Haj Committee, the clash is underlined by the different bosses leading the state minority ministry and the state Haj Committee. While the BJP-ruled state minority ministry is being led by Mohsin Raza, the chairman of the UP Haj Committee is still Azam Khan, whose tenure will be completed by the end of this year. Sources said that Azam Khan, who was the minority minister during Akhilesh Yadav’s reign, has refused to file premature resignation from the position of chairman of the UP Haj Committee.
Meanwhile, people see the representatives of different governments in key departments that look after affairs of the Haj Houses, as the probable reason behind the delay in addressing the matters before the Haj season had started.
Nonetheless, the grandson of Ala Hazrat, the Sufi saint after whose name the Haj House was named, held discriminatory politics responsible for the chaos. The grandson of Imam Ahmad Raza, popularly known as Aala Hazrat, who was the founder of the Sunni Barelvi movement, cleric Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan said, “Acting on a petition that the building has been illegally constructed on river land, the NGT had ordered an inquiry, but no order was passed to shut it down. People have started going for Haj and are facing inconvenience as the House is closed.” On Thursday, Khan’s political party, the Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC), had threatened to sit on an indefinite strike if the Haj House was not re-opened soon.
Naseem Khan, district minority cell in-charge of Congress, said: “The administration knew it fully well that between August and September, pilgrims go for Haj; so the pilgrims should be allowed to avail the facility for just two months. Alternatively, the authorities should have made other arrangements, but the government neglected its duty and closed down Haj House.” Khan added, “A camp for Mansarovar Yatra has come up right adjacent to the Ala Hazrat Haj House. If that can be facilitated, then the Haj House can be made operational too.”
The Muslim Maha Sabha (MMS) wrote to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, requesting him to open the Ala Hazrat Haj house. They claimed that Haj pilgrims from western Uttar Pradesh are facing a lot of problems because the facility is not available for use. Meanwhile, pilgrims from western UP continue to travel via the Haj House in Delhi located near the Ramleela Maidan. Before the construction of Ala Hazrat Haj House, pilgrims from NCR and western UP assembled at Delhi’s Haj House.
Haj Houses across the country serve as transit and facilitation centres where pilgrims arrive a day or two before their flight dates to go through mandatory health check-ups and finish administrative formalities before they are allowed to board their flights to travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Ghaziabad Haj House was built to ease the pressure on the Delhi Haj House and to facilitate convenient stay for Haj pilgrims coming from UP.