The trust responsible for the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Kashi Viswanath Temple Trust have gone for a land swap, which is the result of almost two years of negotiations between both the sides.
Meetings between various Muslim leaders and representatives of the Kashi Viswanath Temple Trust (KVTT) began sometime around November 2019 and culminated in the land swap in July 202.
While the Anjuman Intezamiya Masajid (AIM), the administrative body of the Gyanvapi mosque who are custodians of the land, gave the KVTT 1,700 square feet of land, in exchange they have got 1,000 square feet of land in the Bansphatak area of Varanasi.
The Quint spoke to representatives of the AIM as well as the Sunni Waqf Board to understand the nature of deliberations that took place to arrive at the final call for giving land for the approximate Rs 800 crore Kashi Viswanath Corridor.
Request for Land Was Made by Temple Authorities in November 2019
There are three pieces of land in the area that the AIM is a custodian of. One is a 3,000 square feet land, called plot number 9131 on which the mosque currently stands. The plot has iron barricading all around it.
The second is a 900 square feet land where an old building called the Chattadwar was, and is now a common passage to enter the mosque and temple. This is called plot number 8263.
"This is where the 2018 incident had happened, where some construction workers had broken the chabootra (platform) of the mosque," SM Yaseen, the general secretary of AIM, said.
The third is the 1700 square feet land which has been sold off to the temple trust. This is plot number 8276 where there already exists a Police Control Room.
Members of the Gyanvapi mosque committee told us how they were approached by the temple authorities and the Varanasi commissioner around sometime in November 2019. "It was a verbal request to handover 1700 square feet of land to them so that they could make better security arrangements for the upcoming Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor. We told them we will consider it. The reason we took our time, about two years, was because this is a sensitive issue and had to be handled smartly," Malik explained.
The Process to Reach Out to Muslim Community Leaders Began
The mosque authorities reached out to three important religious schools of India. Fatwas were called from Darul-ul-Uloom in Deoband, Al Jamiatul Ashrafia in Mubarakpur and the Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow to see if one could go ahead with the deal based on religious writings. This happened in the end of 2019.
Then after that in early 2020, religious clerics, at least fifty of them, were called to Varanasi and their opinion was sought, AIM members and Sunni Waqf Board members confirmed.
"Then again in Banaras, prominent Muslim members, about 100 of them were called and their opinion was sought. The opinion was that we should give the land as it would be good for communal harmony," Yaseen said.
By mid-2020 the KVTT temple authorities had given the AIM members in writing, that they wanted their land. After this written request, a letter was sent to the Sunni Waqf Board, which owns the land.
The Board's head Zafar Farooqui confirmed they got a letter and deliberated about it for a few days and decided to give it up.
Why Giving Away the 1,700 Sq Ft of Land Wasn't Met With Much Resistance
Explaining why the deal was not met with much resistance from the Sunni Waqf Board, Farooqui said that the land was not bringing any revenue for the board and was hence, futile for them.
"In exchange we are being given land in Bansphatak area, which we much rather prefer. We plan to make markets here and give the space out for rent. That will boost our revenues," Farooqui said.
Upon inquiring why this land was not providing them any revenue, we were told that this land was being used as a place for a Police Control Room (PCR) since 1993 based on a lease deal that was signed between the administration and the mosque authorities. "After the Babri Masjid demolition had happened in 1992, there was a need to increase security for the mosque due to heightened fears that Gyanvapi mosque would be attacked next. This is when on a lease, for which no money was to be given to the Board, the land was used to set up a PCR and a small pond where water can be drawn for in case of emergencies," Malik said.
""In exchange we are being given land in Bansphatak area, which we much rather prefer. We plan to make markets here and give the space out for rent. That will boost our revenues."" - Sunni Waqf Board Chief Zafar Farooqui
On 26 November 2020, the Board officially gave the AIM a go-ahead to give up the land.
After this the KVTT worked on getting approvals from the administration and the government, and finally the deal was signed six months later on 9 July.
The reason why one waited till 23 July to put the news out, was because of the auspicious saawan month for Hindus. "The right time was needed so that the communalisation of this issue does not happen. The fact that this is an auspicious time for Hindus was seen as a good time to make this announcement and see it as an act of communal harmony," Yaseen said.
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