KARACHI: There is growing pressure from the Supreme Court of Pakistan to remove encroachments from all parkland, market centres and roads of the city. The new directives in particular have clearly included all parkland to be clear of any kind of encroachment and construction so that urban forests can be established for the public and to help the environment.

However, Akbar Laghari, Secretary Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, told Dawn that Karachi’s National Museum of Pakistan was in danger of being lost if these directives were carried out immediately; the iconic building was constructed in Burnes Garden back in 1970 under the directives of the government, and the SC ordered it must be demolished.

“A meeting was held with the honourable Justice Gulzar Ahmed of the Supreme Court which was also attended by the chief secretary and commissioner of Karachi among other officers. At the meeting Justice Ahmed expressed concern over the lack of parks in Karachi and how land allotted to parks has been subject to encroachments over the years which must be eradicated.”

Supreme Court had ordered that all encroachments be removed from parks

The Burnes Garden where the National Museum currently stands was also spoken about, apart from other parks in the city. “We have been asked to shift the artefacts and antiquities housed at the National Museum to another venue and demolish the building, along with other constructions situated on Burnes Garden,” said Mr Laghari.

“The National Museum is an icon of Pakistan and we are concerned that demolishing it in a hurry might negatively impact the treasure it holds. We want to first find an alternative lodging and once that is done we can then remove the antiquities and artefacts which are priceless. We have gems from Moenjodaro and Gandhara, and even handwritten Quran manuscripts which we cannot shift immediately. This is why our priority is to first find a place to move them.”

According to Mr Laghari, the SC has directed that these encroachments be removed as soon as possible. However, he said, with regard to the National Museum there needs to be some groundwork before this can be carried out.

“I have written to the chief secretary and identified some places where we can shift. If we cannot be given any of these buildings then we will have to construct a new museum,” he said.

Available options

When inquired about which places were being considered, Mr Laghari elaborated: “The current residency of the Supreme Court used to be Victoria Museum. After Partition the museum was shifted to Frere Hall and the State Bank was set up there. It currently houses a [registry] of the Supreme Court. It is believed that another building is being constructed for the SC; if and when the SC shifts, the building can be turned back into a museum.”

The other option he put forth was the Mitha Ram Hostel. “The hostel is being used as a sub-jail by the Rangers. The Rangers can be given another place to move and if the museum is established on the premises that would be welcome. The third option could be to take up the PTI’s claim of using governor houses as public spaces. If this is something that the future government plans to follow through with, then the National Museum can be shifted to Governor House,” he added.

The timeline to shift into one of these buildings would be shorter than if a new museum is constructed, said Mr Laghari. “We merely require a building to move into, as we already have the infrastructure to construct galleries and consequently move.”

Mr Laghari added that Justice Ahmed also spoke about the construction of shops on the beach which had spoiled the view and ordered them to be taken down.

“Justice Ahmed has shown great concern about how Karachi’s beauty has been compromised due to encroachments and he spoke about plans to return the glory of the city. He said that parks should only comprise greenery and trees and nothing should be constructed on [them]. Justice Ahmed highlighted other parks in the city too where masjids and madressahs have been built and directed that these should also be removed.”

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2018