The senior management of Jama Masjid wants Members of Parliament to raise the need for help in restoring the 361-year-old mosque in the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament. An imposing Mughal-era mosque in Old Delhi, Jama Masjid is getting weakened under the burden of cracks that have scarred its domes, ceilings and pillars, making it “dangerous”.

The management committee of Jama Masjid has sought help from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), requesting immediate help to start restoration work. While the ASI has visited the mosque, bureaucrats in the PMO have not yet acknowledged the request.

Syed Tariq Bukhari, spokesperson and general secretary of the Advisory council, Jama Masjid, told The Sunday Guardian, “This is not the first time we have written a letter to the PMO or ASI. We have been requesting for repairs since 2004 and have written letters, following which small scale repairs were made, but nothing on the scale which would help Jama Masjid live longer.”

The Shahi Imam, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, had written to then PM Manmohan Singh in 2004, 2005, 2006; then another series of requests were made in 2013, 2014 and 2016, until now again in 2017.

Explaining the current predicament, Bukhari said, “This is a crisis. The structure has become dangerous. There are cracks in its dome and pillars which no longer guarantee safety. The situation  needs urgent resolution. We request the MPs to raise this issue since we have not received any substantial response.”

Over the last 10 days, three visits have been made by city authorities along with some people from the ASI, but no senior officer from the ASI has visited the mosque to take stock of the situation.

A source in Jama Masjid said, “Teams came here and we showed them around. Nobody was taking any notes. Among the people that came, we did not feel that anybody was an expert in preservation know-how and understood the technicality of this crisis. Since we have been told that the ASI has to submit a report to city authorities after which further action will be taken, we have been waiting patiently, but the cracks in the mosque might not.”

Forty years ago, during late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s tenure, a delegation of Muslims led by then Shahi Imam Late Maulana Syed Hamid Bukhari had requested Government of India to intervene and undertake repairs, following which Nehru had given special orders to ASI to undertake extensive preservation work.

In 2013, the Shahi Imam had written to the ASI, requesting help for the blackened white marble walls of the main covered. The white marble had soiled over the years and had never been chemically washed. But sources said that not much work was done. The last full-scale restoration work took place in Jama Masjid 10 years ago.

The reason the ASI is not responsible for the permanent upkeep of Jama Masjid is because it is not a protected monument that comes under direct supervision of the ASI. The official guardians of the Jama Masjid are the Delhi Wakf Board (DWB) and day-to-day operations are undertaken by a special committee controlled by the advisory council of the mosque. Since DWB lacks funds and the expertise in restoration, ASI has always been requested to do the repairs and related work.

In the past, the mosque committee resisted suggestions to make Jama Masjid a protected monument under ASI. Bukhari said, “Jama Masjid is a living monument. It cannot be made a protected monument because then it will come under the rules and regulations of a protected monument. One of the guidelines for protected monuments is time restraint. But Jama Masjid is an operational masjid, it cannot open at 10:00 am and be shut by 5:00pm like other protected monuments are generally.”

A source in the ASI said, “The nature of Jama Masjid’s custody is complicated because of the involvement of multiple agencies. But there are other such archaeological sites as well which hold religious significance and are operational as regular temples and churches. Most of them are preserved and repaired by means of a regular fund facilitated by a legal trust.” A similar request had also been made for Jama Masjid by the Shahi Imam in 2014 to ASI—if an NGO, a trust or a sponsor can be authorised to look after preservation of Jama Masjid. However, sources said nothing constructive happened following discussions.

Bukhari said, “Jama Masjid needs at 5-6 years of continuous repairs to extend its life to another 100-150 years. We need good architects and engineers who can understand the stones used in the construction and preserve the structure in the best manner possible.”

Speaking about the significance  of Jama Masjid, former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi said, “The seventh city of Shahjahanabad was built around Jama Masjid. This area was destroyed and constructed six times until Shahjahanabad was built. There are people who have lived here in the arena for generations. My family can trace back its history to 200 years of living here in Shahjahanabad. Jama Masjid is integral to Delhi’s history and holds emotional and religious significance; it should be preserved.”