KARACHI: The architectural heritage in the city seems to be at stake as the unauthorised demolition and illegal construction works at buildings and monuments from the colonial period continue mainly due to lacunae in the heritage law as well as shortage of staff.

Sources told Dawn on Sunday that the meagre strength of staff at the directorate general of antiquities, archaeology, archives, culture and tourism department and a lethargic attitude of the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) were the other two causes for failure in preservation and prevention of the city’s historical architectural heritage.

They said that there were over 3,500 protected buildings and sites across the province, including 1,750 in Karachi alone, while only 10 staffers in Karachi and as many in the interior of Sindh were deputed to keep an eye on the unauthorised demolition and illegal construction, which was mostly done by influential owners and builders.

The sources said that the heritage department had received just Rs15 million funds for preservation of protected buildings, which were in highly dilapidated condition.

Only 10 staffers responsible for city’s 1,750 protected sites; no building can be razed without NOC of SBCA

They said that the department selected three protected buildings in the city for renovation and preservation and approached the owners for an agreement for the work on the buildings.

The sources said that the owners extended threats to the department officials against renovation work saying that the department was not supposed to carry out any work in their private buildings no matter they were declared protected.

They said that one of the owners served the department with a legal notice, while the two others moved the Sindh High Court through constitutional petitions against the decision to renovate the protected buildings.

SBCA’s responsibility

The sources said that there were no inspectors in the heritage department to check unauthorised demolition or construction at the protected sites as there was no provision of any such posts in the department.

They said that it was primarily the responsibility of the SBCA to monitor the protected buildings and ensure that no demolition or construction work was carried out at the heritage sites. They recalled that the absence of inspectors in the heritage department was brought to the notice of the then chief secretary three years ago, but to no avail.

The chief secretary told the archaeology department that it was the job of the SBCA under building laws to monitor demolition and construction activities in the province, they added.

The sources said that the demolition and construction of any building, including the protected ones, could not be carried out in the province without obtaining a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the SBCA, which had staff deputed in every part of the city to monitor demolition and construction activities.

Culture and Heritage Minister Syed Sardar Shah told Dawn that there was an acute shortage of required staff in the archaeology department as there had been a ban on recruitment since 2013.

The sources said that 90 per cent of the protected building in the province belonged to private parties, while the remaining ones were owned by the federal, provincial and local governments.

They said that the state of architectural heritage in Karachi had undergone massive changes since 1947. Attempts were being made to construct concrete high-rises on the sites of protected buildings, which stood proudly displaying their diverse architectural features.

They said that the protected sites and buildings occupied large areas of land, sometimes much larger than the allotted plots of land in what were now some of the most elite or expensive areas of the city.

The sources said that most of the protected buildings were concentrated in Saddar, Civil Lines and Cantonment Board Karachi remit where plots were very expensive because of their value and buildings and structures could be built on such sites after razing the protected buildings.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2022

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