Law Minister Hansraj Bhardwaj said on Monday that there was no need for the Sunni Waqf Board to take charge of the world-famous monument which it claimed this week on grounds that it housed Muslim graves.

  

"I am surprised about this declaration. The Sunni Waqf Board already has so much property and they do not know how to take care of it," Bhardwaj said.

  

"There is no need for any other body to look after the monument as the country's Archaeological Survey of India ASI is taking care of it quite well," the minister said on the sidelines of a legal seminar.

  

The Waqf board, which manages India's Sunni graveyards and mosques, laid claim to the national treasure on Wednesday after a state court asked whether it considered itself the owner of the white-marbled building.

 

The monument was built by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century and houses his grave and that of his wife Mumtaj Mahal, to whom it is dedicated.

  

Hindu reaction

 

The Waqf board's statement sparked anger among Hindu groups and the ASI-approved Taj Conservation Committee said on Friday that it would take the board to court.

  

"We will tell the Supreme Court that the board's decision has made the historic monument a subject of controversy which might result in the curtailment of tourist flow to it," committee president Ajai Agarwal told reporters in Agra, the northern town where the Taj stands.

   

"The Taj is also on the hit-list of terrorists and the Waqf Board has no infrastructure to look after the monument"

Ajay Agarwal,
president,
Taj conservation committee

"The Taj is also on the hit-list of terrorists and the Waqf Board has no infrastructure to look after the monument," he said.

 

The ASI has warned that the Muslim board's claims could blunt tourism and lead to mismanagement of the fragile monument, which is adorned by four slender minarets and attracts two million tourists a year.

  

Other claimants

 

An Agra-based historian also rejected the Waqf's claim as did two local academics.

  

"It would be an unwelcome development as it has a poor record of looking after its properties," Ramesh Chandra Sharma, who has been teaching history for 40 years in Agra's prestigious St. John's College, said of the board.  

 

Interestingly, the ancient monument has also been claimed, although not seriously, by hardline Hindu organisations and the Shia Muslims.

 

While the former claimed that the structure was built on a Hindu temple by the Muslim ruler, the Shia community said the Taj should be handed over to them as emperor Shah Jahan was a Shia, like his forefathers who came from central Asia, starting with his his great-great-grand father Babar, the founder of the Moghul dynasty.