MUZAFFARABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government has notified around 85 structures and places as ‘protected antiquities’ and given their control to the AJK tourism and archaeology department.
Two notifications to this effect were issued by the AJK information, tourism and information technology (IT) secretariat in March and June this year, said Ms Midhat Shahzad, secretary to the AJK government for information, tourism and IT, while talking to Dawn on Saturday.
According to the notifications, there were 14 sites in district Muzaffarabad, five in district Neelum, two in district Jhelum valley, 11 in district Mirpur, 18 in district Bhimber, 18 in district Kotli, nine in district Poonch, six in district Sudhnoti and two in district Haveli.
More sites would also be notified after completion of the identification process, Ms Shahzad said.
She pointed out that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir was home to a large number of forts, worship places, gardens, inns, stepwells (baolis) and other sturdy structures built by its Muslim (including Kashmiris, Mughals and Afghans), Sikh and local Hindu Dogra rulers in accordance with their religious and cultural traditions and architectonics.
In the 13297 sq. kilometre territory of AJK alone, more than 100 archaeological and heritage sites had so far been documented, but many of them had undergone deterioration due to natural and man-made disasters and human vandalism, she said.
In October 2012, exploration and documentation of some archeological sites of Neelum valley had revealed for the first time that a vibrant civilisation existed in the picturesque area millenniums ago.
According to Dr Rukhsana Khan, who had initiated this documentation with the help of Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisations, the incidents of unlawful excavation of some historic sites in Neelum and Kotli district had deprived the nation of figurines, ancient coins, and other precious antiquities.
The worship places, whichwere left abandoned after the Hindu and Sikh population migrated to India held Kashmir in 1947, could not be looked after due to the non-existence of an archaeology department in AJK.
An ‘archaeology’ wing was added to the tourism department some six years ago, but with the induction of only two staff members.
“Yes this had been a handicap, but the situation is changing for good,” Ms Shahzad claimed, adding, there had been a growing realisation in the ranks of government of the need to identify, protect and rehabilitate heritage sites and antiquities.
“Issuance of notifications about the protected sites is its ample proof,” she said.
Ms Shahzad acknowledged that the concern and directions of the apex court had also helped her department and other officials concerned take effective steps for identification, protection and rehabilitation of these sites.
In many cases, she said, the land adjacent to the antiquities had been allotted to migrants or locals in disregard to the AJK Preservation and Protection of Antiquities Act, 1986 which prohibits initiation or execution of a development plan or scheme or new construction on or within a distance of 200 feet of a protected immovable antiquity.
“Immediately it may not be possible to demolish a private house constructed before the promulgation of this law but steps are being taken to remove official structures if any within 200 feet of the antiquities,” she said.
Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2019