New encroaches upon the old in Khirki

Heritage laws fail to stop encroachment around Tughlaq-era mosque

A makeshift hutment, pile of garbage and remains of a car, seemingly unmoved for years, greet visitors at Khirki Masjid in South Delhi’s Malviya Nagar.

Despite the heritage laws supposed to guard it, this double storied Tughlaq era-monument finds itself nestled amid rampant multistoried construction – and some of it is unfinished business.

A fourth floor is coming up on a building that is just about 40 metres away from the mosque. The monument’s custodian, Archeological Survey of India (ASI) Delhi Circle had shot off a letter to the Delhi Police and South Delhi Municipal Corporation nearly two months back.

The ‘Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act, 2010’, clearly prohibits construction within 100 metres of a protected heritage structure or area.

Even between 100-300 metres, permission has to be sought from relevant authorities.

An ASI official tells Deccan Herald that either of the two agencies is yet to take
action, despite a reminder sent on September 12.

The buildings, which have now eclipsed the imposing minarets of the 14th-century monument, mushroomed when Delhi Development Authority (DDA) sold off land around it some years back. “We are trying to find out how DDA sold land when it is in the vicinity of a heritage site,” the official says.

According to the central land-owning agency’s “guide map” of the area, “village abadi” tightly hugs the monument, allowing access only from one side. Ajay Kumar, an ASI guard at the monument, says the fenced compound often get littered by households surrounding it.

Broken fence
It’s not hard to spot empty bottles, shards of glass and plastic bags in the mosque’s premises.

“Sometimes, miscreants sneak in through the broken fence you see to your right. Many times they even managed to break open the gate. We lodged several complaints at the Malviya Nagar Police station, but no action has been taken,” Kumar says.

“The fence was erected after some youths tried to forcibly offer namaz here during last Eid,” he adds. As per ASI rules, since it is a centrally protected monument, people are not allowed to offer prayers. Police had to mass in force to contain the then brewing communal discord.

Kumar said he receives very few “genuine” visitors.

“We have 10-15 people coming here every day. And sometimes on lean days, it is not rare to have no visitors at all,” he says. Two boys, seen clicking pictures with their cellphones, say they are here to relive their younger days.

One of them, Sachin, 17, says, “Last time we came here was three-four years ago. We used to play here. This entire area was accessible.” When asked whether he knows about the mosque’s history, he says, “Why don’t you tell me something about it? I really don’t know.”

Kumar lets people into the mosque only after a thorough inquiry. When inside, one sees a huge pillared courtyard with nine domes, which is home to stink-raising bats.

Most of the façade is crumbling and visitors have defaced many parts of the structure.

“No restoration has happened in the last five years that I have been here,” Kumar says. Apparently, ASI had started conservation work before the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010, only to abandon it halfway.

But the mosque is still an impressive structure with massive sloping rubble walls and a fort-like structure. It gets its name from the perforated windows (or khirkis) which have corresponding cells in the first storey. Historians believe that the structure bears an unusual fusion of Islamic and traditional Hindu architecture.

The monument is believed to have been built by Khan-i-Junam Shah, Vazir of Firoz Shah Tughlaq around 1351.

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