THATTA: An inquiry committee has confirmed damage to the tomb of Mir Sultan Ibrahim (1556-1592AD) because of unprofessional handling of conservation work by M/S Heritage Foundation Pakistan at Makli necropolis, the world heritage site, and recommended that the conservation work be withdrawn from the contractor.

The committee suggested the foundation be warned over use of substandard material and unskilled, unprofessional and defective conservation work which could have led to a major disaster at the world heritage site.

The committee formed by the culture, tourism and antiquities department to probe reports of damage to the monument said in its report submitted recently that the conservation project, which received financial assistance of $260,000 out of the US ambassador’s fund for culture preservation, was entrusted to the foundation and the work was inaugurated by the then US envoy Richard G. Olson on Sept 16, 2014 at the Makli necropolis.

The facts about mishandling of the monument came to the fore in a correspondence between director of the archaeology department Qasim Ali Qasim and former secretary of culture Hameed Akhund who headed the Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh.

The committee formed on Feb 25 comprised archaeologists Kamil Khan Mumtaz, Yasmeen Cheema and Shahaab Ghani; Capt Bilal Shahzad, assistant commissioner Thatta, Prof Dr Moeendin Veesar, Qasim Ali Qasim and others prepared the report after inspecting the conservation work and cross-examining the site supervisors Maulana Ashfaq Ahmed, Naeemulah Shah and others.

The report found that if the foundation had been familiar with non-destructive investigation techniques such as fiber optic microscopy, infrared, thermography and ultrasonic measurements being internationally applied to architectural surfaces and historical masonries for strategic planning for the conservation interventions and environmental management for the protection of cultural heritage and developing a planning methodology concerning proper, effective and compatible materials and techniques for conservation interventions, it would not have used the destructive investigation technique.

Had the foundation been aware of the damage its unprofessional approach to the sensitive work might cause it would have asked its engineers to conduct one of the non-destructive tests mentioned above instead of damaging the 15th-century heritage site, said the report.

It said the destructive investigation of cultural property had punctured the brick masonry high drum of the double-shaped dome of tomb at a number of places.

In its concluding remarks, the committee suggested that the foundation needed to be warned over substandard and defective conservation work which could have led to a major disaster on the world heritage site and recommended that the conservation work be withdrawn from the foundation.

Meanwhile, director of archaeology Qasim Ali Qasim in his letter to the head of the foundation, Ms Yasmeen Lari, referred to her response on the issue and said it was a futile attempt to absolve the foundation of the responsibility of causing damage to the structure.

He pointed out that Ms Laari was not a conservationist by profession and stressed that the work had not been stopped for the sake of defamation as the report prepared by the experts who were highly reputable in the field very clearly highlighted the negligence by the foundation and found its work to be well below the accepted standard practices.

In a related development, the federal secretary of heritage has written to the provincial secretary of culture that the bamboo huts erected on the world heritage site Makli were against international conservation rules and needed to be removed within this week.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2016

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