KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Tuesday directed district judges to depute magistrates of jurisdiction concerned to visit sites/monuments protected under antiquities law across the province and empower them to call authorities for restoration and preservation of their dignity as well antiquity value of such properties.

A single-judge bench of SHC headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar also ruled that such properties under the Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1904 and the Antiquities Act 1975 were not owned by any private person.

The issue of ancient properties cannot be equated as private properties under the Heritage Act 1994, but that of antiquities therefore judicial propriety demands serious attention on above reflected properties, it added.

It also directed the deputy commissioners to visit ancient properties in their respective areas on quarterly basis and ensure that the same remained along with antiquities department and no damage/loss was caused to such properties and also called detail report from secretary of culture, tourism, antiquities and archives department regarding creation of endowment fund and restoration of such properties in their original form.

At the outset of the hearing, the secretary of culture submitted a list of 129 protected sites/monuments notified under the Antiquities Act 1975 across the province.

The bench came down heavily on the secretary and other officials of the culture department for lack of preservation of such sites and said that the department was established with the sole purpose to ensuring protection of these properties with their antiquity and it would never be suffice to give such properties in a relevant list or notification but required much more to protect them.

It directed the culture department to also submit a detailed report as to how and what steps were being taken to ensure preserving antiquity value of such sites and it must include earlier and present pictures of these properties.

These directives were passed during the hearing of a suit as the plaintiff contended that they had been condemned unheard while declaring their property Saddar Mansion as heritage though direction were issued by the divisional bench that a departmental committee was required to provide opportunity of hearing.

The bench asked the secretary to listen to plaintiff and pass appropriate order in accordance with law within three months.

Tour guides appointments

At this juncture, the secretary of culture department contended that they were going to recruit tour guides having requisite qualifications enabling the local as well as foreign tourists to provide them basic knowledge and cultural history and historical knowledge in scientific manner by the use of modern gadgets.

The bench asked him to ensure such appointments, preferably within six months.

It observed that the law itself put the culture department under heavy duty to protect such sites and it was required to own its responsibility on war-basis and ensure that there must not be any further loss/damage or defacing to such protected properties.

The secretary conceded that there was no concept of endowment fund to preserve such properties and he agreed that they will place summary with regard to creation of endowment fund keeping a room for public at large to join as stakeholders to reserve/preserve ancient properties.

“Needless to mention that Culture, Tourism, Antiquities and Archives Department, shall classify properties in two groups, one notified under the Heritage Act 1994 and another notified under the Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1904. Needless to mention that in judgment passed by divisional bench of this court properties notified under the Act of 1994 whereas Culture, Tourism, Antiquities and Archives Department, is not entitled to examine the architectural value of the properties/places as notified under the Act of 1904 therefore both lists shall be filed separately”, the order said.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2021

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