LAHORE: Instantly responding to the prime minister’s instructions, the Punjab government started work to demolish the Governor House’s outer wall on Sunday afternoon – to offer a clear view of the majestic colonial-era building to the public from The Mall.
As per officials, the wall from the left side of the Governor House’s main entrance on The Mall to the corner of the Alhamra Hall and a few yards on the Kashmir Road will be demolished and replaced with iron grills.
Denying that the outer wall demolition is a violation of The Antiquities Act 1975, the government acknowledged that the Governor House was a protected premises and would be preserved as such.
As the work began, the workers were seen removing the barbed wires installed on iron grills fixed on over-10-foot high wall of the historic premises. The barbed wire was installed on the boundary walls of all the public and other sensitive buildings in the wake of terrorist attacks in the country in the recent past.
While the security officials are voicing their concerns with regard to the move, the electronic media was reporting that the wall demolition and installation of iron grills would cost the government exchequer to the tune of around Rs60 million. The project is expected to be completed in a week’s time under the direct supervision of the Governor, Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar.
‘High cost’ of PM’s decision questioned
Mr Sarwar says a prime minister’s committee headed by federal education minister Shafqat Mahmood had discussed various proposals. He said the committee was unanimous that Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf as a party had committed during election campaign that all the Governor House premises would be opened for the public and this promise had already been honoured by allowing people access to its lawns and certain facilities on Sundays. A proper plan and a strategy was being prepared in this regard, he added.
Shunning the rumours about plans to demolish the majestic structure, the governor said the committee discussed various proposals regarding converting the premises into a museum and shifting the governor’s office along with his staff somewhere else. “The committee’s proposals will be presented to the prime minister, who will take a final decision,” Mr Sarwar said.
When contacted, federal education minister and committee head Shafqat Mahmood said the Governor House’s main building would be preserved as a heritage building and guided tours would be conducted for students and general public.
He also confirmed that the committee had discussed two proposals -- whether the Governor’s office would remain in the main building or shifted somewhere else. He said the government had also decided that the Governor House at Nathiagali would be converted into a hotel. Similarly, he said, proposals for Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Houses were also being considered.
Mr Mahmood dispelled the impression that the removal of the outer wall and installation of iron grills would cost Rs60 million to the exchequer, adding that the Punjab government’s communication and works department would have a better estimate of the project cost.
A C&W department senior official, however, told Dawn that the department was merely an executing agency, while the Punjab government would itself finalise cost revision and budget estimates.
As the federal education minister was reminded that former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had got removed the outer wall of the Government College University, Lahore and replaced it with grills that were instantly covered with climbers, Mr Mahmood assured that no climbers would be planted along the Governor House grills to block the view of the majestic colonial-era building.
He said that he would also look into the matter of clearing the view of the GCU main building and tower by removing the climbers.
The Punjab University administration had last year got removed all iron grills installed around the varsity’s New Campus grounds and academic blocks along the canal and constructed over 10-foot high walls there, blocking the public view of the campus. Iron grills of some of the New Campus gates are now being covered with steel sheets to completely block the public view.
Meanwhile, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb has strongly reacted to the prime minister’s order of demolishing the Governor House’s outer wall, saying: “Imran Khan is fooling none other than himself”.
In her tweet, she said, “The demolition of Governor House walls will neither help in bringing down power and gas prices, nor people get flour and bread at cheaper rates”. The wall demolition would neither even create 10 million jobs, nor five million houses, she observed.
Mr Aurangzeb said Imran Khan had got demolished walls of the PTV and the parliament buildings when he was on a container. Being habitual, she said, Mr Khan had now attacked the Governor House.
“The prime minister does not know about the importance of the country’s history, culture and national heritage as he is up to running the country through hens, eggs and calfs,” she said.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2018