In blatant violation of environmental and heritage norms, an ancient Chinar adjacent to a 600-year old masjid at the Khanpur Mughal Sarai in Budgam district was axed last month.
The move has evoked strong resentment from archaeological experts who accuse locals of vandalising the majestic Chinar.
Speaking with the Greater Kashmir, ex-chairman of the National Monuments Authority of India and convener Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), J&K chapter, M Saleem Beg said he has informed the Budgam district administration regarding the vandalisation of the Chinar and a threat of encroachment to the masjid premises.
“As per Archaeological Survey of India, the site was already protected in 1958. But one fails to understand why ASI then did not include the 300 square-feet masjid in the protected site,” said Beg.
In his letter to Budgam district administration, Beg has highlighted that the “sarais on the Mughal route in J&K always have had a mosque adjacent to the main premises.”
Beg has asked the administration that the area may be fenced “and given in the formal charge of the Rural Development Department or any other agency who may also be asked to fence it.”
“The mighty Chinar planted during the Mughal times in the open space of the mosque demarcated the masjid premises. The Chinar has been felled and vandalised. This has resulted in removing the only segregation between the mosque and the nearby houses,” Beg said.
Beg expressed concerns that with the axing of the Chinar, there is threat for the open space “to be encroached as there is no watch and ward or any public ownership.”
“Although the official record of the masjid and the Chinar would be available but at the site there is no notice or fence so that the area could be secured from encroachment,” Beg said.
Beg has sought an inquiry into cutting down of the Chinar saying “circumstances for cutting down the Chinar for which presumably permission has been given by the revenue department may also be inquired.”
“The sarai is an important monument representing the Mughal heritage and a part of the Mughal route,” Beg said. He said the masjid was once a prayer hall for Mughal emperors during their visits to Kashmir in the summer. “It is a 300-square feet 16th century masjid which needs to be saved.”
Made of stone and lime mortar, the masjid with a tiled roof is quite unique despite mushrooming of new constructions around it. “This masjid has the typical architecture of the Mughal era, with small arched windows well placed to allow cross ventilation and a semicircular niche in the wall to lead prayers. The matter may be taken up with ASI/State archives for restoration and protection of the site which may be deemed to be a part of the main monument where ASI staff for watch and ward is posted,” reads the letter from Beg to the Budgam administration. “
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Budgam, Shahbaz Mirza, did not respond to repeated calls and text messages from this reporter.