A day after the Delhi High Court ordered suspension of the construction of a mosque at an excavated site near the historic Jama Masjid where thousands of Muslims offered Friday prayers, authorities moved in to defuse a potentially volatile situation by handing over the site Saturday to archaeologists.
A police contingent was seen deployed in the area to maintain law and order. Hundreds of onlookers gathered near the site near Subhash Park around 10 a.m. No prayers were offered, unlike Friday when there arose chances of trouble with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists lurking close to the area.
The North Delhi Municipal Corporation and police cordoned off the area and handed over the site to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
While the religious books and other properties at the site were seized, the authorities left untouched the upcoming mosque structure.
"There were brick walls and minarets that had been built over the last two weeks. We have not demolished any structure and kept religious books in a trunk," said a police officer at the site.
A mosque sprouted at the site after a building's remains were discovered early this month at the site excavated for Delhi Metro work.
The situation near the controversial site appeared to be getting tense as devotees from the neighbouring areas continued to gather at the site for offering Ramadan prayers Saturday.
Hundreds of people looked on, including some protestors, even as the authorities seized the site.
By afternoon, the crowds swelled as local legislator Shoaib Iqbal's son Aaley Mohammed addressed the crowds next to the site. Iqbal had been campaigning for a new mosque at the very spot.
"We are not against the court. But we want them to listen to the community's views also without exaggerating this issue in the month of Ramadan," Mohammed told IANS.
Some people from the area claimed that the ruins were those of the 17th century Mughal-era Akbarabadi mosque and started building a fresh structure at the site but the Delhi High Court put a stop to it Friday.
Some residents said the ASI should be allowed to do its job and people should refrain from giving a religious colour to the issue.
"We respect the sentiments of our brothers who think there could be an Akrabadi mosque here. But now the authorities should take charge of the situation," said Mohsin Ahmad, a resident of Urdu Bazar.
Subhash Park falls within the restricted zone of two protected heritage sites -- Sunehri Masjid and Red Fort. Any construction in the area requires permission from the National Monuments Authority.
Acting Chief Justice A.K. Sikri, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Rajiv Shakdher said: "It is the ASI which has to take over the site immediately to investigate whether Akbarabadi Masjid existed there or not."
The court said this after some lawyers brought the issue to the judges' notice.
According to the ASI, the Akbarabadi mosque was built by Bibi Akbarabadi, one of the wives of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Apparently, the British destroyed it after the First War of Independence in 1857.