Explained | Idgah Maidan row: Whose land is it anyway?

Explained | Idgah Maidan row: Whose land is it anyway?

The Idgah Maidan at Chamarajpet has been stuck in a land ownership dispute between the BBMP and the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf for over three weeks now

The Idgah Maidan at Chamarajpet has been stuck in a land ownership dispute between the BBMP and the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf for over three weeks now

Story so far: The expansive Idgah Maidan, located in the midst of the Chamarajpet, one of the oldest localities in Bengaluru, has been stuck in a land ownership dispute between the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf for over three weeks now. While the BBMP initially claimed that the maidan is a civic property, Muslim organisations argued that the land was a gazetted wakf property. Pending a resolution, the BBMP had clarified that no official permission would be given for any event on the ground, including those sought by Hindutva organisations to conduct activities on Independence Day.

With no end to the impasse over the embattled playground, a newly floated outfit, Chamarajapet Nagareekara Okkoota Vedike, with an aim to “save the playground”, has called for a Chamarajpet Bandh on July 12 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How did the conflict begin?

The ownership of the Idgah Maidan ran into controversy in June 2022, after a few Hindutva organisations sought permission from the BBMP to hold events on the ground. The right-wing organisations petitioned the civic body seeking permission for all communities to host events at the ground, such as International Yoga Day. Meanwhile, fearing a communal flare-up, the city police requested the civic body to install CCTV cameras around the ground, then believed to be under BBMP ownership, in the event of any untoward incident.

On June 11, civic officials turned up at the Idgah maidan in Chamarajpet with an earthmover and started digging a trench to lay underground cables for CCTV cameras. In the absence of any prior communication, Muslim residents of the area mistook it as an attempt to build a compound wall and objected to the work. As tensions ran high, the civic officials retreated and the BBMP later decided to install CCTV cameras with overhead cables, instead of underground ones.

What does the BBMP claim?

The 1974 City Survey records show the Idgah Maidan as a playground, with a khata in the name of the BBMP, indicating the land to be a civic property belonging to the city corporation.

Ever since, the civic body claims, it has held possession of the land. In 2006, the corporation also built a building, a public toilet, on the land. According to the BBMP, there has been no objection raised to either the entry in the city survey, its possession of the land or the building of a public toilet there. However, there have been allegations of BBMP khata records being tampered with.

The BBMP argues that the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf should have represented themselves during the 1974 City Survey and recorded their ownership of the land, or come forward with their claim even at a later date and got the khata transferred in their name, which has not been done.

What is the Waqf Board’s contention?

Following the controversy over the Idgah Maidan, the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf contested that the 2 acre 10 guntas of land of the maidan is a registered waqf property. To substantiate their claim, the Central Muslim Association (CMA), which has been the caretaker of the Idgah maidan, also submitted a set of documents. This includes a 1964 Supreme Court order, which reportedly struck down a proposal to construct a building on the land, and a subsequent waqf gazette notification dated June 7, 1965, showing the land as a wakf property. Despite this, the land was shown as a playground in the 1974 survey and civic records, causing confusion.

Controversy over Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru

An attempt to lay underground cables for CCTV cameras at Idgah Maidan in Chamrajpet in Bengaluru led to tension in the area on June 11, 2022.
| Video Credit: K Murali Kumar

How did the two bodies arrive at this impasse?

Once the confusion over land ownership came to light, the BBMP served a notice to the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf to provide proof of ownership for the 2 acre 10 gunta land and make a formal claim seeking a khata in its name.

The khata certificate is a document which identifies the ownership of a property, and is provided to a taxpayer for registering a new property, transferring any property or for availing the various amenities such as water connection, trade license, building license, etc.

The waqf board, however, refused the BBMP’s request. It countered that the Board, an autonomous body, was in no way obligated to present documents to the BBMP, which was also a claimant for the same property. N.K. Muhammad Shafi Sa-adi, Chairman, Karnataka State Board of Auqaf, said the Board would submit the relevant documents to either the State government or the court.

According to the BBMP, a khata only reflects the present possession of the land and status of ownership, and doesn’t create ownership in itself, and therefore if the Waqf Board could get a khata in their name, it would resolve the dispute. 

What is the effect on right-wing groups’ demands?

According to the 1964 SC order submitted by the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf (wakf), the BBMP doesn’t have ownership of the land and there is a permanent injunction against the civic body from entering the property. Therefore, as things stand, the BBMP has ordered that status quo should be maintained on the property and there is no question of the civic body permitting Hindutva organisations or any other group to hold events on the embattled maidan.

Furthermore, since both parties — BBMP and Karnataka State Board of Auqaf — involved in the row are government bodies, the final decision rests with the government alone.

The Idgah Maidan at Chamarajpet in Bengaluru.

The Idgah Maidan at Chamarajpet in Bengaluru.
| Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

A deepening communal faultline

The conflict over the Idgah Maidan land has brought to the fore the communal divide in the 130-year old Chamarajpet, one of the earliest planned localities of Bengaluru. The area, with a mixed language demography and a diverse voter profile, has a sizeable population of both Hindu and Muslim communities. Along with the now embattled Idgah Maidan, the constituency also houses Keshava Shilpa, the RSS headquarters.

A few days before the tensions began, the BBMP had clarified to right-wing outfits in the city about the Idgah Maidan ownership and said that the playground was owned by the civic body. It had said that prayer gatherings could happen twice a month and that the ground could be used for other activities as well.

However, opposition by Muslim organisations, irked these Hindutva groups who began arguing that the national flag should be hoisted there on Independence Day. They even placed a demand to host the International Yoga Day on June 21 and the Azadi ka Amrut Mahotsav function on August 14 and 15 at the disputed land. Some organisations have spoken of taking the legal route to get permission to hoist the flag, at least on Independence Day. 

Political weight to the dispute

The Chamarajapet Nagareekara Okkoota Vedike, that came into existence on July 3, has called for Chamarajpet Bandh on Tuesday, with an aim to “save the playground and their rights to hold Hindu and national festivals at the ground”.

The vedike has formed a legal committee which includes several BJP members, such as N.R. Ramesh, BJP Bengaluru South president; Vivek Reddy, BJP legal cell president, and former MLA Pramila Nesargi.

It has come down heavily on local Congress MLA B.Z. Zameer Ahmed Khan for “conspiring to hand over the land to the wakf board” and against BBMP Commissioner Tushar Giri Nath “for giving up the BBMP’s claims over the playground”. Responding to rumours that a mosque will be built on the land, Mr. Khan has assured that the ground would always remain a playground and there is no question of “saving” it.

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