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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) last month ordered that the National Museum of Pakistan be transferred back to the federal government.

After the 18th Amendment, subjects under the control of the federal government including museums and libraries were transferred to the provinces along with subjects on the concurrent list.

These included 13 museums across the country and 403 sites and monuments protected under the Antiquities Act, 1970.

“The inept manner in which the devolution was carried out started coming to light with time. In its last days, the Ministry of Culture devolved those very heritage sites that the federal government was supposed to retain,” a senior official of the Ministry of Heritage told Dawn.

He said that according to the Constitution, subjects on the federal legislative list are under the control of the centre while those on the concurrent list belong to both but are under the control of the federal government till it decides that a province has acquired the capacity to take on the burden.

“One of the reasons for retaining the federal list was that the centre served as a focal point when it came to signing or negotiating international agreements and treaties. From the time the mistake was made in April 2011, the Department of Archaeology and Museum considered devolution of its subjects in the federal list- ancient and historical properties- to the provinces as wrong,” he said.

Nonetheless, when SC ordered the transfer of ownership of the three health institutions and the National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi, it noted that the requisite legal procedures were not followed. The real intent, import and impact of the 18th Constitutional Amendment was ignored and misinterpreted, it said.

“Transfer/devolution of the [National Museum of Pakistan] is declared to be unconstitutional, without lawful authority and of no legal effect,” the SC order said.

In its directions, SC said provincial governments and all related departments shall take all necessary steps relating to the return of the institutions from the provinces to the federation. The position of these institutions shall as far as possible be restored to the position as on the date when they were transferred to the provinces.

It is, however, clarified that the restoration and return shall include resumption of the employees by the federation - all serving or retired officers, employees or servants.

While the Ministry of Heritage welcomes the court orders to return ownership of the museum to it, there are still another 13 museums that need to be returned to the federal government.

The Quaid-e-Azam’s birth place, Quaid-e-Azam House, Omar Kot Museum, Bhambore Museum, Swat Museum, and the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa museums were also subjects in the federal list, to be retained by the centre but were given to the provinces.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2019