Repairs on the northern dome of the Jama Masjid have left little patches of cement at its base. After cracks developed during heavy rains, the mosque’s administration employed workers to use cement — but only after they wrote to the Centre requesting that the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) conduct restoration work.
“We have been writing to the ASI but did not get a proper response. We had to take temporary measures only in order to save the monument,” said Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, adding that the cracks had developed due to seepage issues and needed urgent repair.
An ASI official said that since Jama Masjid is not a protected monument, the restoration does not come under their purview. They can do so only in special cases upon request and no such official request has been received by them, the official said. But the masjid management claims that previously, the ASI used to restore parts of the Jama Masjid as and when required.
In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, dated June 6, 2021, the Imam wrote, “The structure of the internationally renowned Jama Masjid Delhi is in dire need of repairs. As a special case, its repairs had been carried out, from time to time, by the ASI, since 1956.” The letter stated that stones of the structure keep falling off. He requested the ASI to inspect the monument and commence repairs.
The administration also said the ASI had conducted a survey after this letter and a budget was made. But despite several telephonic conversations, things did not move forward.
Historian Dr Swapna Liddle said, “It is imperative that limestone mortar be used for a building that originally used limestone mortar… It could be fixed by removing the cement.” However, she added that long-term solutions need to be devised such as coming up with a detailed programme to conserve the monument. She said that even the red sandstone slabs are flaking and need to be replaced.
Heritage activist and historian Sohail Hashmi also threw light on the need to use limestone mortar for such monuments: “Historically, particularly in the medieval times, a mix of hydrated limestone and crushed bricks was used as a binding material. While it used to take longer to dry than cement, it becomes bone dry hence, after rain, it will dry up completely while cement will not.”
He said that since the cement and limestone mortar react differently, it might cause more destruction in the long run. The Sher Shah Gate is an instance of this, he added. Before Independence, ASI used cement to restore the monument and it was later almost on the verge of collapse. He said the only way to fix it is to scrape off the cement and use limestone mortar instead.
(Inputs from Divya A)