HYDERABAD: Deputy Commissioner Fuad Ghaffar Soomro, in his report on the Sept 2 collapse of the facade of the 18th century Pucca Qila, has recommended an in-depth probe by renowned archaeologists or conservationists.

He called for ascertaining how the contract for the conservation work was awarded to a party that lacked expertise in the field and why the work was not being carried out in a planned and organised manner.

The report described the reason for the destruction as “no less than criminal negligence by the officials concerned”.

The DC has disputed culture department’s inquiry which says the “district administration didn’t offer assistance to officials during conservation work of the fort”.

‘Incompetent contractor, absence of experts and untrained labourers resulted in the incident’

The report dated Sept 5 is said to have been submitted to the commissioner. It contains a report prepared by the assistant commissioner, City, and statements of some shopkeepers doing their businesses outside the fort.

Referring to the shopkeepers’ statements, the DC stated in his report that apparently the culture department was carrying out restoration work through a private contractor, who reportedly employed untrained manpower for the job.

According to the DC, the work was being carried out in highly unprofessional manner and against the established norms and protocols for the restoration and conservation of historic sites.

For the restoration of heritage structures, a technical expert or archaeological engineer or conservator ought to be present on site to monitor the activity, he argued, and claimed that no such expert or supervisor was present at the site on the day when the incident took place.

“Restoration itself raises questions ... the process was more a demolition or dismantling exercise,” he observed.

The DC noted that sledgehammers were being used to get the structure dismantled through untrained labourers, who worked while standing on the fort’s wall. “It negates the concept of archaeological restoration as primary purpose of such an effort is to retain original design, material and structure of building,” he argued.

Commenting on alleged lack of planning, he pointed out that no prior photographs or sketches of the area intended to be conserved ware taken by the team deployed for the restoration of Pucca Qila gate. This ultimately resulted in poor execution of work.

The DC also noted that the culture department did not engage or involve stakeholders although the site is located in a thickly populated area. “Not a single meeting was held with the administration, police or Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (HMC), he added.

The incident raised many questions also because an office of the archaeology [department] is situated about 150 feet away from the work site within the fort, he said.

DC Soomro remarked that how could such flagrant violation of conservation and preservation norms go unnoticed.

He rejected the statement of the fort’s assistant director that “she met AC City in connection with removal of shops from main gate”, saying that no such meeting ever took place regarding removal of shops.

Had there been a major hindrance due to encroachments, the officials tasked with the restoration work should not have initiated the project and raised concern with higher ups even before starting the exercise, he argued.

He maintained that the restoration work had been going on for a month and without any hitch “which is ample evidence of cooperation by the undersigned,” the DC said in his report.

He said the implied intent of culture department to shift blame to the district administration and to the undersigned in its inquiry report was purely an exercise to hide their technical shortcomings and lack of proper planning.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2021

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