DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Though historical buildings are protected under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Antiquities Act, 2016, a 125-year-old building inside the walled city of Dera Ismail Khan, known as Bagai Mahal, is facing demolition by the owner.
Section 16 of the Act titled ‘restriction on repairs, renovation, etc, of protected antiquity’ says, “the owner of a protected antiquity shall not make any alteration or renovation in, or addition to the said protected antiquity.”
Director (archaeology) Dr Abdul Samad disputed the claim regarding the age of the building insisting that the available records showed that the building was no more than 92 years old and under the law, there was nothing his department could do to intervene.
“At the moment, we have taken the legal shield of a stay order to stop its demolition. A commission has been constituted to look into the matter and we hope its finding would be public in a day or two,” he said.
Aslam Awan, a scholar, however, described the demolition of a once-beautiful building a ruthless act on part of the owner.
He said D.I. Khan was a major centre of Hindu community before Partition.
The scholar said Das Ram Bagai was the chief of Bagai family, which built Bagai Mahal as their residence in late 1800.
“Mr Bagai was a famous philanthropist and put up various buildings, including dispensaries, educational institutions and TB hospital for the poor people of this land using his own resources. Demolishing this historical building cannot be justified,” he said.
Ghulam Abbas Sial, a writer from Dera, who now lives in Sydney, said the contribution of the Bagai and a few other Hindu families can’t be forgotten. Das Ram Bagai was an X factor in this regard, he argued.
Das Ram Bagai was a literary person, a sportsman and a social activist and at that time Dera Ismail khan was called an Intellectual Capital of the Frontier Province. He was one of the earliest persons to obtain a degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1898 from Government College, Lahore.
In 1947, he planned to give a swimming pool to the college, a clock tower to the town and a playground to Arya Samaj Radha Girls School. However, those projects had to be abandoned due to Partition. His humanitarian work in the Frontier Province during the twenties and thirties was greatly appreciated.
It was he, who at great personal sacrifice and labour designed and erected the magnificent Victoria Bharati High School at the cost of Rs80,000.
Local historian and writer Hafiz Gilani said the palace had been purchased by a local, who was to demolish it despite the fact that the residents met the deputy commissioner, who posted police guards at the building to prevent any demolition bid.
“Now, the guards are deployed outside but inside the house is being demolished by the owner without inviting any attention. The house has been in private hands because it was allotted to a migrant family soon after partition,” he said, describing its demolition a great loss to the city.
Atul Bagai, the grandson of Das Ram Bagai, who lives in India, described the news of demolition of his ancestral place a great shock.
“We have emotional attachment with this building and this devastating news proving the last nail in the coffin.”
The Bagai family in India urged Prime Minister Imran Khan through a letter to intervene and prevent the demolition of the historical building.
“The site can be brought and converted into a museum encompassing a library and preserving a few artifacts will prove to be a tourist attraction, symbol of culture,” he said.
When dismantling news was broken, the civil society reacted strongly.
Azmat Kamal, a local activist approached the court, which ordered an immediate halt to demolition work.
“I, along with the bailiff, delivered the court order to the owner who was supervising the demolition work, the work was stopped but later on, the owner accelerated the work very next day and shifted the precious material to an unknown place,” he said.
Later on, through a contempt of court notice, the police got in action and stopped the work. “We have also submitted an application seeking formation of a commission to estimate the loss of material and building,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2021