Heritage sites belong to the federation, not provinces: law ministry

Published March 2, 2015
The law ministry claims that constitutionally the control of heritage sites belongs to the federation. .—Jamal Shahid/File
The law ministry claims that constitutionally the control of heritage sites belongs to the federation. .—Jamal Shahid/File

ISLAMABAD: A battle looks shaping up between the provinces and the federation over the control of museums and heritage sites in the country as the law ministry says that constitutionally the control belongs to the federation.

In reply to a query from the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, the law ministry stated that despite the 18th Constitution Amendment “all museums and similar institutions controlled or financed by the federation remain a federal subject”.

Department of Archaeology and Museums (DOAM) had been agitating the thorny issue of control ever since cultural institutions and sites were transferred wholesale to the provinces under the devolution plan in 2011.

Before its abolition on April 5, 2011, the then Federal Ministry of Culture had devolved to the provinces 403 sites and monuments on the Federal Legislative List, which were protected and governed by DOAM under the Antiquities Act 1975.

On January 29, 2015, the law ministry wrote to the heritage wing of the Ministry of Information and National Heritage that “the touchstone is the word controlled or financed by the Federation”.

Therefore, all subjects of the Federal Legislative List fitting that description “can be retained at the Federal level”.

Under this definition fall the Unesco world heritage sites of Lahore Fort, Shalimar Gardens, Mohenjodaro, Rohtas Fort, as well as other archaeological sites and museums.

A DOAM official found it ironical that the then Ministry of Culture missed transferring hundreds of heritage sites to the provinces that had to be actually devolved under the Concurrent List. It also transferred more than 800 DOAM staff associated with the museums and sites not supposed to be devolved.

Know more: Jualian’s Buddhas tumble head first into bureaucratic tussle

Secretary Ministry of Heritage Muhammad Azam feels the devolution was done in haste.

“Now the law ministry has given its opinion, opening the way to correct a wrong done in the past,” he said.

It is expected the matter will be put to the Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) to build a consensus, although Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and Heritage official thought it unnecessary.

“If it were the Concurrent List, it would make sense because the IPC deals with only provincial issues. But the world heritage sites, museums and (archaeology-related) laboratories are subjects of the Federal List. They have nothing to do with the 18th Amendment,” he argued.

But the secretary of the ministry does not want confrontation with the provincial archaeology departments.

“The idea is to deal with the matter in an amicable manner with the consent of provincial governments,” said Mr Azam.

Because it has the skills and training, he said, DOAM is in the best position to take care of the national heritage.

“When it comes to international treaties and commitments, world organisations do not go to or correspond with the provincial governments. The federal government is the only focal point in such matters,” the secretary added.

Little conservation efforts have been seen at the country’s six world heritage and 400 other sites and monuments in the last four years. Some experts find the post-devolution neglect more telling than the ravages of time.

“Only recently a landlord created a pond at Mohenjodaro, our most ancient site, and Punjab’s archaeology department has outsourced the conservation of the walled city of Lahore to a private party instead doing it itself,” observed a source in DOAM.

Published in Dawn March 2nd , 2015

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