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KARACHI: The lack of interest of the provincial government in matters relating to historical sites could be gauged from the fact that a draft bill on the preservation of cultural heritage has been pending in the assembly for two years while the government is yet to release funds for a conservation project approved in 2012.

The Sindh antiquities bill is meant to replace the Antiquities Act of 1975 under which some 129 sites are protected in the province. Around 1,600 sites are protected under the Sindh Cultural, Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994 while 1,200 sites that have been discovered over the years are needed to be registered in the list of protected sites.

According to sources, the law should have been enacted immediately after devolution when the management of the federal department of archaeology and museums was handed over to the province. The continued delay, they said, not only made historical sites vulnerable to private claims, but could also cause procedural hiccups in departmental works.

“We cannot use the federal act (The Antiquities Act 1975) now as we need our own authority,” said a government official working on the conservation of historical sites.

Giving details of the conservation project, he said that the scheme titled as Protection, Promotion and Preservation of Archeological Sites and Monuments in Sindh was estimated to cost Rs333.8 million.

“Initially, it took a long time to convince high officials that the project’s execution should be in the hands of the department staff having expertise in conservation rather than contractors. Now, we are waiting for the funds’ release,” he said, adding that there was little hope that funds would be released any time soon as the government faced huge monetary problems.“Everybody is aware of the dilapidated state of the historical sites. Devolution hasn’t addressed the problem of funds’ shortage,” he said.

Preservation, maintenance and rehabilitation of historical sites, he said, wasn’t an easy job considering the fact there was a dearth of people having expertise in this particular field in the province as the subject was not taught at any universities.

Giving his opinion, Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, former secretary of antiquity department now heading the Management Board for Antiquities and Physical Heritage, confirmed that the law was pending and that the passing of such a law was important to discourage possibility of any private claim on an historical site.

“However, the lack of such a law doesn’t stop people from doing their job as departments are empowered under the constitution to perform,” he said.

Shortage of expertise in preserving historical sites and monuments, according to Mr Lashari, is the biggest challenge the government faces in conservation.

“It’s an expert’s job. People usually don’t understand that physical intervention comes at a later stage. First one has to assess the problem at the site and then prepare a plan to sort it out while keeping the sanctity and authenticity of the place intact,” he said.