Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (L) and PPP leader Sharmila Farooqi (R), arrive to attend a cultural heritage festival at the ancient ruins of Moenjodaro. — Photo by AFP
ISLAMABAD: The Sindh Cultural Festival took off amid dazzling lights, but the din continues that it threatens Moenjodaro, the inaugural place of the festival listed with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a world heritage site.
About a week before the launch of the two-week festival at Moenjodaro on Friday, the director of Unesco’s world heritage sites had described it as an ‘improper’ activity which could threaten its universal values.
But adviser to the Sindh chief minister on culture Sharmila Farooqi said all precautions had been taken during the inaugural ceremony at the ancient site.
Conservationists at the department of archaeology and museum said any human activity within 200 feet of any national heritage protected under the Antiquities Act 1975 was illegal.
“The act states that not even an electric wire can pass above a national heritage, let alone installing floodlights and setting up stage on a site protected under the law,” said a senior archaeologist in Islamabad.
The technical consultative committee of National Fund for Moenjodaro had also warned that the decision to hold inaugural ceremony at the site could cause irreparable damage to the fragile remains of Moenjodaro.
Unesco official Jawad Aziz said the organisation’s world heritage sites director had contacted Pakistan’s permanent delegate to investigate the matter and take steps to prevent the site from any harm. “About five days ago we passed on this message to the Sindh government to safeguard the universal value of Moenjodaro,” he said, adding that they were still waiting for a response from the departments concerned.
Asma Ibrahim, director museum of the State Bank and member of the Heritage Management Board, criticised the holding of the ceremony at Moenjodaro and said no-one had been allowed to enter the site for three days and access to it was blocked by hundreds of policemen.
“More than 500 guests were invited to the event which continued till late night. There is no way to tell the extent of damage caused to the site. The remains of Moenjodaro are already fragile. Salinity has weakened the walls to an extent that they can collapse by even loud sound,” she said, adding that the mud-brick remains required extra care.
Ms Ibrahim said she had tried in vain to convince Sharmila Farooqi to hold the ceremony outside the 200-foot protected area. The event had been held without obtaining a no-objection certificate from the Sindh department of archaeology, she said, adding that cases should be registered for violating the law.
Kaleemullah Lashari, Member National Fund for Moenjodaro, wrote two back-to-back letters to the Sindh secretary for culture, tourism and antiquities warning of the damage to be caused to the ruins by the opening ceremony.
In a letter written on Jan 30, a copy of which is available with Dawn, Mr Lashari urged the secretary to use vast lawns of the museum and offices for the ceremony, instead of protected areas of the site. “The world community does not endorse such improper activity and it will be an embarrassment if a wall of the remains collapses or any other fragile section of the remains is damaged,” the letter said.
No conservation efforts have been undertaken at Moenjodaro for over 10 years. A better sense prevailed in 2010 when the government stopped the construction of a highway through the ancient remains believed to be as old as 4,000 BC.
Sharmila Farooqi claimed that no harm was caused to the world heritage site. “Arrangements for the event were meticulous. All the officials concerned and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (PPP patron-in-chief) personally visited the site before the opening ceremony,” she added.
But Asma Ibrahim said the damage could be assessed only after the government allowed access to the site which was still closed to outsiders and its caretakers.