RAHIM YAR KHAN: Both the Cholistan Development Authority (CDA) and Punjab Archaeology Department have failed to check illegal excavation activity at a site in Cholistan desert near Bagho Bahar, over 50km from here, said to be the ruins of an ancient settlement, resulting in theft of precious artifacts and gems.

According to sources, in December 2020, some persons belonging to Mardan and Swabi areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwah hired some local labourers for digging a spot in Cholistan desert near Chak 132-1/L, in the limits of Islamgarh police station in Khanpur tehsil and Tabasum Shaheed police station in Liaquatpur tehsil.

The sources said the “outsiders”, used metal detectors to locate the spots they wanted the local labourers to excavate. During the excavation, they said, gems and pieces of ancient pottery were found that were taken away by their employers after giving the locals a nominal amount.

Liaquatpur Assistant Commissioner Arshad Watoo told this correspondent that in December 2020, a complaint was received about illegal excavation activity in Cholistan, but when the offi cials visited the site, they found nobody there. He said that he had sent a report about the illegal excavation to RYK deputy commissioner, who forwarded it to the archeology department and (CDA), besides asking the police concerned to establish a checkpoint there to check such activities. He further said that on February 13, 2021 the DC also wrote a letter to the CDA managing director, asking him to preserve the site and check illegal digging near Bagho Bahar.

Mr Watoo added that in February, the archeology department offi cials took over the site. CDA MD Rana Muhammad Saleem confi rmed he had received a letter from the DCon February 14, 2021 about the site and immediately deputed his staff to monitor the situation given the sensitivity of the issue. He said that because of facing a shortage of patwaris, who look after the record and other matters related to the Cholistan land, the CDA could not monitor the vast desert area properly.

He added the CDA was preparing a proposal to be sent to the Punjab government soon for formally handing over such sites to the archeology department. He said that there were also two other signifi cant ancient sites in Cholistan -- Sorhian in Khanpur tehsil and Gaweri near Lal Sohanra in Yazman tehsil.

A spokesman for the archaeology department said Adviser to Chief Minister on Tourism and Archaeology Asif Mehmood has sought a report from archaeology director general and the deputy commissioner about the site.

He said action would be taken against archaeology offi cials concerned if any negligence was found on their part. “Let me make it clear that no one has the right to plunder such rich archaeology sites. To improve performance of the department, the Punjab government is considering establishment of an authority to look after tourism, archaeology and culture in the area,” he said.

Meanwhile, according to a local offi cial source, the site was locally called Ratta Thair and it was linked to around 5,000-year-old Patan Manara site situated some 40km from it. He claimed the site was some 2000-3000 years old.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2021

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