LAHORE: To the utter shock of the postal authorities and citizens, the internal sidewalk of the ‘protected’ GPO (General Post Office) building on The Mall on its Nabha Road side has been quietly red-marked to snatch its 750ft space for the Orange Line Metro Train.
Postal authorities say they were not informed about the move and they were alarmed to see the red marks inside the boundary wall of the GPO. When inquired, it was revealed that the marking had been made by the train project officials to devour its 19ft land across the length of the road, leaving just 6ft to be used as its sidewalk.
The building is protected under the Antiquities Act 1975 and the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance 1985, says a former Punjab information secretary Dr Aajaz Anwar, vice chairman of the Dilkash Lahore Committee. “It cannot be touched.”
“This is shocking for me. The committee does not know anything about the move. It is required to get an approval of the committee for touching any protected building especially on The Mall under the law. The move is simply disastrous, a crime against Lahore,” Dr Anwar says.
Citizens say it is a monumental folly
GPO was built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and to replace the telegraph office of Anarkali Bazaar. The first building by the British Raj in Lahore, it was designed and built by Sir Ganga Ram.
It was occupied by Postmaster General Punjab in 1904. It represents the historical continuity, cultural heritage and is a masterpiece of Indo Saracenic architecture which has compulsory feature of special premises. Now, it proudly represents the city of Lahore as a historical and cultural landmark.
As a symbol of pride for Pakistan Post and identification of Lahore, authorities had the entire building, particularly its exterior, restored to its pristine beauty in 1984 under the guidance of renowned architect Yasmeen Lari.
Postal authorities who are preparing to confront the move at all fora say any alteration in its premises will compromise the restoration and conservation efforts and will be viewed antagonistically in future history.
It may cause unquantifiable damage to the structure of the building and spirit of Indo Saracenic architecture. It is contradictory to the spirit of The Punjab Special Premises Act 1985 which is aimed to preserve historical, cultural and architectural value in Punjab and to control and regulate such alterations in the premises of such sites.
Building of Lahore GPO is an “antiquity” under the Clause -2 of the Subsection (C-I) and Clause-2 (G-III) of the Antiquity Act, 1975 and grabbing of its land is a clear violation of the law.
Construction activity, especially excavation, machine induced vibrations, drilling, piling and resultant changes in environment just 6ft away will induce deterioration in ancient material forming structure of the building and may cause irreparable damage.
The original plan of the GPO building is based on a triangle with its base kept open and two arms of building have been so constructed that they run parallel to The Mall and Nabha Road. It signifies by a façade of 130 feet backed by a doom. There is 25.6ft wide 775ft long “special premises” to demarcate the main building from the road.
Dr Anwar says the attempt to grab the GPO land is a cultural crime and a disaster bigger than the metro bus that has blocked the view of the city landmarks like the Government College and the shrine of Data Sahib. “It should never be allowed,” he says.
Published in Dawn, October 19th , 2015