TAXILA: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday disposed of a petition against the erection of a wall and gate blocking access to the ancient Buddhist Stupa and monastery Dharmarajika in Taxila and ordered the commissioner Rawalpindi to settle the issue in public interest.
Justice Mohammad Sajid Mehmood Sethi of the LHC in his order stated: “The commissioner is directed to call meeting of all the stakeholders and shall try to sort out the matter amicably and submit a report on the next date of hearing on June 30.”
The order added: “Commissioner has shown willingness to assume the control of the case for free access to Stupa.”
The path leading to the Dharmarajika Stupa, which is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and protected under the Antiquities Act 1975, has been blocked for around 10 years after a private developer purchased the land near the site and constructed a boundary wall. The Stupa located about four kilometres from Taxila Museum is one of eight shrines constructed during the reign of Emperor Ashoka.
In Jan 2018, Abdul Malik Khan and Saeed Ahmed Wahla, through their counsel and prominent human rights activist Asma Jahangir, had filed a petition in the court, requesting that the boundary wall constructed around the historic site be declared illegal.
Though Ms Jahangir died in Feb 2018, her junior lawyers on behalf of the petitioners prayed that directions be issued to the Rawalpindi commissioner to render all possible assistance to the archaeology department to initiate legal proceedings against the encroacher so that future encroachments could also be avoided.
The court was informed that Section 22 of the Antiquities Act prohibited any construction within 200 feet of protected sites. After over a year’s proceedings, the court ordered the commissioner for removal of encroachments from the site.
“The Dharmarajika Stupa was an important Buddhist site built during the period of Mauria dynasty dating back to the 3rd century BC,” said Irshad Hussain, deputy director Department of Archaeology and Museums Punjab.
The Stupa of Dharmarajika was the first built by Ashoka to bury the ashes of Buddha. Mr Hussain said keeping in view the site’s significance and importance, Unesco enlisted it as a World Cultural Heritage List in 1980.
Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2019