Construction of a mosque near the historic Jama Masjid was on Friday stopped by the Delhi high court which directed the local civic authority to immediately hand over the site to the ASI to ascertain if there were any remains of Mughal era structure there.
The court also asked the North Delhi Municipal Corporation to cordon off the area with police assistance so that no one can enter the site.
The NDMC had on Thursday refused to grant permission for carrying out any religious activity at the spot, where the ruins of Mughal-era Akbarabadi mosque is believed to have been discovered early this month during Delhi Metro work.
Devotees led by local Rashtriya Lok Dal Member of legislative Assembly Shoib Iqbal had started thronging Subhash Park near the Red Fort from morning and offered namaz at the structure.
A full bench headed by Acting Chief Justice A K Sikri directed the Archaeological Survey of India to take possession of the site and probe if there was any Mughal era structure existing there.
"There should not be further construction on the site. The NDMC shall cordon off the area by setting up barriers and police is also hereby directed to render assistance to the agency," said the bench, also comprising justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Rajiv Shakdher.
"We are of the opinion that it is the ASI which is to take over the possession of the site and start investigation on whether there was any archaeological remains of any Mughal era structure existing on the site," the court said.
Asking the Delhi chief minister to deal with the issue expeditiously, the high court asked the Delhi government to hold a high-level meeting of senior officers from various departments, including Archaeological Survey of India, NDMC and Delhi Urban Art Commission.
Directing the NDMC to file a status report regarding Jama Masjid redevlopment plan, the bench posted the matter for July 25.
The court passed the order after senior advocate Aman Lekhi, appearing for a group of lawyers, sought its intervention alleging that Iqbal is 'illegally constructing a mosque on government land'.
Advocate Lekhi also said the police and civic agency officials have failed to prevent the illegal construction adding, "They failed to take action against the legislator who has taken the law into his hands."
The NDMC counsel said the agency is ready to cordon off the area once the police clears the crowd from the disputed site.
To a query from the bench as to which agency has jurisdiction over the land, the NDMC counsel submitted that the land was initially given to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation for construction of a metro station, but Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation later gave the possession back to the civic agency.
No boundary wall, however, has been built so so far on the site, it said.
While hearing the matter, the bench referred to various letters written by the MLA in which he had requested the ASI to take possession of the disputed site and reconstruct the 'Akbarabadi mosque' in its original form.
Appearing for the Delhi police, Standing Counsel (criminal) Pawan Sharma assured the bench that all assistance would be rendered to the civic agency in compliance of the court's orders.
Following purported discovery of the remains of a Mughal era structure on the site during an ongoing work by Delhi Metro, locals led by MLA Iqbal had begun building a mosque
there and had gathered there today to offer namaj defying the NDMC order, which had banned any religious activity there.
The NDMC had declined to grant any permission to any party to carry out any religious rituals till a proper decision is taken and had warned that anybody indulging in construction was liable to prosecution as the said land belongs to the municipal body.