Workers remove poles meant to support floodlights and sound system from the Lahore Fort. — White Star
Workers remove poles meant to support floodlights and sound system from the Lahore Fort. — White Star

LAHORE: The Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) on Friday drew ire of the Lahorites, heritage lovers and the government after it allegedly allowed a wedding function at the Royal Kitchens of the Lahore Fort, and a Unesco world heritage protected site, organised by a well-known industrial group.

However, the authority denied according permission for such an event, claiming that it had only allowed a corporate dinner as was explained in the application submitted by the company. It claimed that the organiser had deceived it.

On the other hand, the WCLA suspended one of its officers for negligence regarding the alleged event while the chief minister, chief secretary and other high authorities took a serious notice of the media reports of a marriage function by the business group, pledging to initiate action against all those involved in allowing a wedding ceremony at an internationally known heritage site in Lahore.

“Organising a marriage ceremony at the Lahore Fort is a serious offence,” Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said in a press release.

“The participants in the function, including women, started holding Mehndi ceremony at the Royal Kitchens after start of the function on January 9. They kept doing all this for a couple of hours. At the end, some officials from the WCLA approached and requested the organisers to immediately stop this (function) after someone reported the matter to the higher officials in the government,” said an official source in the Punjab government.

Denies reports of allowing wedding; suspends official; files complaint for FIR against organiser

According to an application, submitted by an administrative official of the company, the Fatima Fertilizer Company Limited, a request was made to the WCLA marketing director for allowing a private dinner at Royal Kitchens (Lahore Fort).

“Due to broad business, geographical location of its industrial units wide business connections around the world and special role in the economic growth & development of Pakistan, the group received a large number of foreign and domestic guests, dignitaries,officials and businessmen with varying stature. Fatima Fertilizer Company is interested to host a private dinner on 9 January , 2020 (from 1900 hrs –2200 hrs) at Royal Kitchen at Shahi Qila Lahore in the honour of our corporate guests (100 in total),” reads an application submitted to the WCLA by retired Maj Asjad Nawaz Cheema (Executive Administration) of the company on Dec 4 (last month).

The WCLA authorities processed the application and finally allowed the company to do so, subject to not carrying out fireworks and holding marriage function, live cooking with no oil lamps, aerial firing, fixing no nail at structures, no use of glue, paint, squash tape at historical structures and furniture, recording, commercial activity, hard drink, access to rooftops etc.

After having permission, the organisers also deposited a fee of Rs500,000 with the bank that was mandatory under the WCLA by-laws.

While the WCLA admin submitted an application for registration of a case against the private company, its director general dispelled the impression that a wedding function was allowed, claiming that the authority could never even think to do so. “They (the applicants) have deceived us and we are taking legal action against them,” WCLA DG Kamran Lashari said.

“They had submitted application for organising a corporate dinner for 100 participants (business people) at Royal Kitchen and not Sheesh Mahal. But they later converted it into a sort of marriage (Mehndi) function that is unacceptable for us. It was correct that a function was held that was later converted into a Mehndi. But it is not correct that the WCLA had allowed to hold Mehndi at the fort’s kitchen,” he clarified. He said the WCLA would also take action against its on-duty staff.

According to the WCLA heritage conservation board, a limited use of Royal Kitchen and its courtyard is allowed.

“The board is satisfied with the conservation restoration work as well as the limited use of the royal kitchen for the purpose of restaurant or eatery. However, we are also satisfied that that the historic area of the kitchen is not being used for the kitchen or cooking purposes. It is observed that by the board that a restaurant activity at the world heritage site is permissible and a lawful activity under the law for the project Royal Kitchen. The WCLA and the Agha Khan Trust for Culture—Pakistan have taken all necessary measures to observe the heritage value of the site s per international practices,” reads a decision of the board.

The WCLA submitted an application with the Tibbi City Police Station for registration of an FIR against the organisers for allegedly flouting the instructions.

“The authority found that the function arranged was not mentioned in the request letter. Therefore, it is requested that an FIR may kindly be registered against Fatima Fertlizer Company Limited for criminal and unlawful activities committed in violation of the permission granted by the WCLA,” reads the application submitted by the WCLA director (admin) Shahid Nadeem. He told this reporter that the authority suspended Lahore Fort In-charge and Assistant Director (Tourism) Bilal Tahir from service for not monitoring the function properly.

“An inquiry into charges against Mr Tahir has also been initiated,” the official added.

Fatima Fertlizer Company Limited Corporate Affairs Manager Zahoor Ahmad rejected the media reports, claiming that the function was held in line with the instructions of the WCLA.

“It was neither Mehndi nor Walima, as it was just a dinner hosted by our company in the honour of its guests,” he said.

“We are a responsible firm and we can never think to flout the laws, rules & regulations, policies and guidelines of the public and private sector organisations,” he maintained.

Mr Ahmad questioned the WCLA’s action against his company, saying when there was no wedding-related activity, how the government could submit the application for registration of an FIR.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2020