MOENJODARO: As the clock ticks closer to the Feb 1 kick-off of the Sindh Festival in the important archaeological site of Moenjodaro, media reports about the main stage being constructed in a protected area has prompted Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to visit the site and survey the potential for damage.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari, chairman of the PPP and the face behind the festival, flew into Moenjodaro on Thursday accompanied by the adviser to the Sindh chief minister on culture, Sharmila Farooqi. Moenjodaro is the 5,000-year-old remaining site of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
The director of the Sindh archaeology department, Qasim Ali Qasim, conveyed to the PPP chairman his opinion that prior to initiating the construction of the non-permanent arrangements, his office ought to have been consulted with view to identifying the most suitable location.
Nevertheless, sources told Dawn that although the stage was initially planned on a spot where certain structures of the SD-area of the site stand, it was later built 20 feet away from the stupa — one of the main features of the site — so that no damage would occur. The sources said that people related to the field of archaeology had also proposed the use of another site from where participants would not just have a panoramic view of the structures but there would also be no possibility of damage.
During the visit to the site this correspondent noticed that even though the huge stage has been relocated and is no more in the midst of the ruins, it is still extremely close to the SD-area and the excavated ruins surrounding it, and is still in what is designated as a protected area. More so, the lighting arrangement has been made in such a way that many of the large poles have been placed right in the middle of the excavated site.
The factual position with reference to the photographs that have been appearing in the press was conveyed to Mr Bhutto-Zardari, said the sources, and he viewed the area with the specific purpose of the health of the Moenjodaro structures.
According to sources in the engineering wing of the archaeology department, being looked after the provincial culture department, the Antiquities Act that regulated such activities is ineffective after the promulgation of the 18th Amendment. There is no question of its applicability, they said.
Yet responding to Dawn queries, the secretary of the Sindh culture department, Saquib Soomro, said that the department had nothing to do with the erection of the stage over the protected ruins and that it was being done by event managers who had been given the contract.
Meanwhile, arrangements are being made for the public and some 400 dignitaries, including ambassadors, who will be flown into Moenjodaro on special flights for the Sindh Festival’s inaugural session.
When this correspondent visited the venue on Thursday, a good number of teams of men were busy in giving final touches, such as fixing the scaffolding and fitting coloured stage lights in aluminium towers (with heavy metal bases to act as anchors). No digging seemed to be taking place. “When lit, these lights will give the ruins a traditional look,” said Irshad Ridd, the curator of the site, brushing aside the impression that the arrangements would damage the site. No digging was being done for the stage and the seating arrangements, he said.
Opponents of the plan say, however, that once a cultural programme on such a big scale is allowed at the site, it will open the floodgates for others.
It may be recalled that some time ago flood victims took shelter at the Makli necropolis, a site protected under the Antiquities Act and a world heritage site. During their brief stay, the condition of the site deteriorated significantly.
Addressing a press conference at the Moenjodaro rest-house on Thursday, adviser Sharmila Farooqi gave the assurance that the archaeological site would not be damaged by the Sindh Festival, adding that credit was due to Mr Bhutto-Zardari for holding it. She highlighted the PPP chairman’s visit to the site, saying that he too was satisfied on this count. She said that the aim of such a festival was to introduce to the world Sindh’s rich indigenous culture and that the festival was being held after consultations with reputed international archaeologists. She dismissed reports on damage to the site as propaganda, saying that such programmes were held at such sites across the world.
Ms Farooqi explained that Mr Bhutto-Zardari was himself a student of history, and that he was monitoring the event. “We have a budget of Rs25 crores for holding 15 to 18 such events in Sindh,” she added, explaining that “the Sindh Chamber of Commerce and Industry was also extending help.”
At the occasion, director archaeology Qasim Ali Qasim also said that no digging was being done at the site and therefore there would be no damage. The commissioner of Larkana, Dr Saeed Ahmed Mangnejo, and deputy commissioner Mirza Nasir, were amongst those present. During the past couple of days a large number of people, including some experts, have expressed serious concern on the way a cultural event was being organised at the site and according to some of them, without taking into consideration restrictions imposed by Unesco on such activities.
With additional reporting from Karachi by Bhagwandas