KARACHI, July 28: The entire structure of an open-air theater at the Hindu Gymkhana, which is protected under the Sindh Cultural Heritage Protection Act, has been demolished to facilitate construction of an over 50-feet high building at the site in violation of the Act, it is reliably learnt.

According to sources, the demolition has been carried out by the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa), the present occupier of the Hindu Gymkhana which intends to raise the building to have a most modern theater at the site.

The demolition and construction work is being sponsored by the government of United Arab Emirates, which has probably been misled or not informed that the activity by UAE contractors is illegal, the sources said.

The project site, Seth Ramgopal Goverdhandas Mohatta Hindu Gymkhana, is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It is a protected heritage site and nobody, including the owners, could alter, demolish or even repair, rehabilitate or carryout any construction activity under the Act, which prescribes long prison terms and heavy fines on violators.

A prior permission from the Advisory Committee on Cultural Affairs, which is headed by the chief secretary, has to be obtained for any such activity at a protected site.

An integral part of the Hindu Gymkhana, the open-air theater, was constructed in the first half the last century and its stage had a roof. But owing to the official neglect, the condition of the entire gymkhana building, which presents a good example of the mixture of Rajesthani and Islamic architecture, had deteriorated.

However, a few years back, the Hindu Gymkhana building was handed over by the federal government to the Sindh government which spent millions of rupees to restore its strength and beauty, but even the government did not restore or rehabilitated the open-air theater or its stage.

Some time back, the Hindu Gymkhana was handed over to Napa and from the very beginning, Napa had been trying to demolish the open-air theater and construct a new building at the site. The sources said that as Napa did not have the required funds earlier, the plan was delayed but as soon as a foreign donor was hooked, the demolition was started.

The sources said that to carry out construction in a protected building, first an NOC from the Advisory Committee is to be obtained after which the plan is to be approved by the Karachi Building Control Authority. The KBCA could not approve the plan without the committee’s NOC.

The sources said that Napa had managed to get the KBCA approval for the construction without getting the NOC. Even that KBCA approval is not lawful, they said.

The sources said that on the basis of this approval for “addition and alteration”, the entire open-air theater has been razed.

Responding to the Dawn queries, Napa Director Arshad Mehmood said that the original open air theater was in a dilapidated condition and was not in used. Therefore, it was demolished. “It was a solid structure and was difficult to demolish,” he added.

A new state-of-the-art theater, with a seating capacity of 165 Napa students, is to be constructed at the site of the original theater. The new building (having basement, ground and three floors) would be 53 feet above the ground and 17 feet deep basement. The Hindu Gymkhana building is just around 20 feet high.

According to him, the project is being sponsored by the UAE government and its contractor firm, M/s Technical Associates Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd, is carrying out the construction that is expected to be completed by December. Napa has obtained the KBCA approval for the construction and, according to him, the Sindh Culture Department’s permission was not necessary as it is not a heritage structure.

The KBCA Building Controller Zahid Naeem said that the Napa had been given the permission of addition and alteration but he was not aware if it had obtained the NOC from the Culture Department.

Additional Secretary of the Sindh Culture Department Rabiya Javeri Agha said: “The Hindu Gymkhana is a protected building under the Sindh Cultural Heritage Protection Act, and an NOC from the Advisory Committee is required if any construction is to be carried out in the protected building. She said that Napa had not applied for any such NOC and, as such, no NOC had been issued to Napa.

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