In a not entirely surprising decision the Supreme Court shot down an incredulous petition that took many of us by surprise. Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf Board, which has claimed ownership of the Taj Mahal in Agra, was on Tuesday asked by the Supreme Court to produce documents signed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to prove its claim.
The Sunni Wakf Board reportedly claimed that Shah Jahan executed a wakfnama to declare Taj Mahal its property. The top court has given the board a week to produce the signature of the emperor who died in 1666.
The court was hearing a 2010 appeal filed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) over ownership of the monument.
“Who in India will believe it belongs to the wakf board? These kind of issues must not waste the time of the Supreme Court,” a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, told the board.
As senior advocate V Giri, representing the board, insisted that Shah Jahan had declared Taj Mahal as Wakf property, the three-judge bench demanded to see the original title deeds.
“Then you show us the original deed executed by Shah Jahan. Show us the signature,” the bench said, granting the board a week’s time.
“How did he (Shah Jahan) sign the wakfnama? He was in jail and used to view the monument while in custody,” the CJI observed.
Shah Jahan died in the Agra fort where he was put under house arrest by son Aurangzeb in 1658 after he seized power from his father following a bitter war of succession.
The 2010 petition of the ASI was filed against wakf board’s July 2005 decision declaring the Taj a wakf property, according to a Hindustan Times report.
The bench reminded the board that Taj Mahal and other Mughal-era structures were passed on to the British after the end of the Mughal rule. After Independence, the central government seized control of the monuments which are now being managed by the ASI which has the right of administration, the CJI observed.
Advocate ADN Rao, representing ASI, said there was no wakfnama.
“Under the 1858 proclamation, the properties taken over from the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, by the British vested with the Queen. By the 1948 act, the buildings were taken over by the Indian government,” he said.
Taj Mahal is a national landmark renowned all over the world as one of the wonders of the world. It’s a monument which in its truest sense it belongs to all the citizens of the country. An organization like ASI is one qualified to maintain such a heritage structure. The Supreme Court’s is a welcome addition in this saga and we hope that it remains as the property of the entire nation.