ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday approved a bill for the establishment of the ‘Promotion and Protection of Gandhara Culture Authority Act 2023” to preserve and promote Buddhist sites and tourism.

The proposed authority is the continuation of the ‘International Gandhara Symposium’ recently organised by the government participated by key Buddhist religious figures from many countries.

The bill presented by Dr Ramesh Vankwani, who is the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Gandhara Tourism, stated that the body would be self-sustainable and a fund titled ‘Gandhara Fund’ would be formed and regulated under its rules.

Objectives of authority

The objectives of the authority include acquiring, holding and managing movable and immovable property as well as conducting surveys, excavations, and research related to Gandhara artefacts and archaeological sites. It would also develop conservation plans and guidelines for the protection of Gandhara cultural heritage. It would regulate and issue permits for activities related to the excavation, export, or import of Gandhara artefacts. The proposed authority would collaborate with national and international organisations for the preservation and promotion of Gandhara culture.

Proposed body to regulate tourism, promote research work

It would also facilitate tourists, both domestic and international, interested to visit Gandhara heritage sites as well as raise funds through donations, grants, and other means to support its activities.

It would conduct research, studies, and publications on Gandhara culture and history, as well as organise exhibitions, cultural events, and educational programmes to promote Gandhara culture.

It would facilitate capacity-building programmes for professionals engaged in the conservation and management of cultural heritage.

The bill said that all museums, historical sites, historical buildings and places related to Gandhara culture would be facilitated by the authority.

The ‘Gandhara diplomacy’ would also promote ties with the countries of Far East Asia and facilitate research and academic activities related to Gandhara culture. The authority would establish Gandhara student clubs and societies in universities, colleges and educational institutions across the country, according to the bill.

It would also set up a ‘Gandhara Tourism Promotion Centre’ and would have the power to issue licence to Gandhara tour operators, hotels and guest houses that will be allowed to host Gandhara tourists. It would also register transporters for the promotion of Gandhara tourism.

The bill highlighted that there would be a Gandhara Heritage and Handicraft Export Centre responsible for patronage and marketing of local handicrafts, especially those related to Gandhara art and culture in the international market.

The National Heritage & Culture Division of the federal government will render necessary support and provide assistance to the authority in the smooth discharge of its functions. The authority would be accountable to the government and comply with all the reporting and auditing requirements as stipulated by the laws and regulations. The authority will prepare an annual report detailing its activities, achievements, financial statements, and future plans, to be submitted to the president and made available to the public.

Its chairman would be appointed by the prime minister for a period of five years and other members would include the heritage division secretary and representatives from all provinces as well as Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir.

Published in Dawn, Aug 2nd, 2023

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