HYDERABAD: Sindh High Court’s Hyderabad circuit bench comprising Justice Salahuddin Panhwar and Justice Amjad Ali Sahito on Friday restrained the registrar of the Sindh Cooperative Housing Society (SCHS) from allotment or auction of the Cooperative Bank building, located opposite Radio Pakistan off Miran Mohammad Shah Road, in any manner as it’s a heritage property.

The bench directed the culture secretary, Hyderabad commissioner and deputy commissioner to ensure restoration of the building in its original shape and establish a library there for students.

The court passed the order on a constitutional petition filed by a resident of Kotri, Irfan Ali, who stated that the Cooperative Building was inaugurated by Lord Brabourne, the then governor of Bombay, on Feb 7, 1943 in memory of Bombay Legislative Council member Azeem Khan Durrani, who was awarded the titles of ‘Khan Bahadur’ and Khan Sahib’ in recognition of his services. Khan Bahadur (1882-1938) was born in Husri, Sindh.

The petitioner informed the court that the SCHC invited bids for the building’s auction although it had been declared protected heritage since 2009. He stated that the building was currently in bad shape and it had lost its original shape due to neglect by government.

He asked the court to issue directives for the preservation of the building and its conversion to a library and research centre.

The petitioner was represented by Advocate Mir Mangrio. The bench noted that perusal of photographs and record showed that the building was part of heritage property. It also noted that in the case of Dialdas Club (CP No. D-2973/2016) the commissioner had been directed to ensure conservation of all heritage properties in Hyderabad.

Issuing notices to the respondents, the bench ordered the culture secretary, commissioner and deputy commissioner to visit the building and ensure its restoration to its original condition for the establishment of a manual and digital library there with all facilities within the next three months.

Study on Karoojhar’s heritage status ordered

The same bench ordered the chief secretary to constitute a committee within the next seven days to conduct a study on Karoonjhar hills, located in Nagarparkar.

The order was passed on a constitutional petition filed by Tharparkar residents Munawwar Ali Sagar, Teerath Kumar Jhangi and Allah Rakhio through Advocate Ghulam Mustafa Hingorjo.

If the hills fall within the category of heritage, then they be declared “heritage and ancient property” under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904 and Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994”, the order said, adding that the exercise be completed preferably within six months and an interim report be filed in court on a monthly basis.

The bench said it was also expected that Sindh government would consider the site for enlistment in the World Heritage Sites by inviting Unesco experts.

The bench appointed advocates Sajjad Ahmed Chandio and Ishrat Ali Lohar as amicus curiae to assist the court in the matter, and said it would take up the matter after four weeks.

Referring to a book Sarasvati tehzeeb aen Achhro Thar authored by researcher Maskoor Phulkaro, the bench observed the author had mentioned that there were 109 hills comprising the Karoonjhar range with 108 holy sites. Such reference, it said, was sufficient to consider it a cultural heritage site.

The bench also observed that excavation of granite from there was a known fact which was needed to be examined by the quarters concerned because if the action was being done at the cost of heritage, then the activity needed to be stopped or be mechanised to ensure maximum benefit to government.

The bench issued notices to respondents including the chief secretary; secretaries of mines and minerals, culture and tourism and forest and wildlife departments; Tharparkar deputy commissioner and six owners of marble firms.

According to the petitioners, the sites have cultural, traditional and religious significance and an ancient history. They stated that the federal and Sindh governments had not undertaken a study of these historical sites and even geology department did not examine the mountains.

They said they had learnt that the official respondents illegally leased out the Karoonjhar area where historical worship places including Jain temples and Bohdesar Mosque were located.

They stated that the private respondents and other companies were damaging the sites by cutting rocks to extract granite.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2021

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