The Supreme Court has agreed to hear on Friday an application seeking the protection of the 17th Century tomb of Afzal Khan, a general from the Bijapur Sultanate, in Maharashtra’s Satara after a society commemorating his memory told the court that the tomb and structures around it could be jeopardised by an ongoing demolishment drive carried out by the local administration on claims that it is forest land.
On an urgent mentioning in the afternoon, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud agreed to list the matter for Friday without issuing any interim orders.
Afzal Khan was a general who served the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur Sultanate in India, and played an important role in the southern expansion of the Sultanate by defeating the Nayaka chiefs who took control of the former Vijayanagara territory. Khan was defeated and killed by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on November 20, 1659.
An application for status quo was moved by the Hazrat Mohammad Afzal Khan Memorial Society that cited a news report and video that showed the Satara administration carrying out demolition drives around the tomb situated near Mahabaleshwar.
The bench, comprising justices Hima Kohli and JB Pardiwala, said, “This person died in 1659. How can you have a shrine coming up in 1959? This is a forest land.”
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Representing the society, advocate Nizam Pasha said, “The tomb has existed since 1659.” As regards the structure built around it, the issue whether it is situated on forest land is a matter pending for consideration before the Supreme Court in a case filed by the society since 2017.
The society had then come up in an appeal against an order of the Bombay high court on January 25, 2017, when the HC referred to its 2008 order and sought an action report against unauthorised constructions situated in the forest area of Pratapgarh in Satara district.
By this order, the state government was required to furnish details of the demolition activities along with the number, location, date of construction and date of demolition of such structures.
The top court took up the appeal in March 2017 and deferred the HC proceedings. Since then, the appeal was heard on several dates, the last being September 26 this year.
Pasha told the apex court that there is widespread belief the tomb will be demolished as a local online news channel showed live coverage of the demolition where some men were seen climbing on the roof of the tomb/dargah.
“The applicant is apprehensive that damage will be done or the tomb of Afzal Khan may be demolished today and beseech this court to issue appropriate directions to protect the tomb of Afzal Khan that has existed on site since before November 1659,” the application said.
When Pasha requested for an order directing “status quo” on the ongoing demolition, the bench told him to wait till the matter is taken up on Friday.
The society also annexed a news report to suggest that rooms and structures around the Afzal Khan tomb were razed by the authorities on Thursday morning. The officials explained that the action was pursuant to the Bombay high court order. However, the society stated in its application that no fresh order of demolition was passed after the 2017 order was deferred by the top court.