RANIKOT (Dadu), Oct 18: Shoddy repair work being done in the name of restoration of Ranikot, one of the oldest and largest forts in the world, has jeopardised its placement on the coveted list of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites, it has emerged.

The historical site, located in the Kirthar mountain range, is protected under the Antiquities Act, 1975, and its various subsequent amendments.

Archaeology experts say that an inquiry should be immediately instituted to determine how three government departments tasked to carry out and supervise the site’s much-needed restoration were allowed to employ cement in place of original construction material, still available in abundance.

The departments assigned the task are the federal archaeology department, Sindh culture department and the Dadu district government.

Government documents obtained by Dawn indicate that the restoration work has been done without following any architectural drawings — a must for all preservation projects.

Cement has been used extensively on Ranikot’s defence walls, Sann Gate and platforms before Meerikot. The dome of a mosque near Sann Gate has been completely plastered with cement.

A visit to the site off the Indus Highway shows that the thoughtless use of cement — not only as a binding material but also a layer on stony surfaces like battlements — is likely to weaken the government’s case for inclusion of Ranikot in Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Other World Heritage Sites in the country are Moenjodaro, Makli necropolis, Shalamar Gardens, Shahi Fort, Taxila Valley, Takht Bhai and Rohtas Fort.

Conservationists point out that cement does not sit well with the materials – such as stones and lime mortar – used for construction in the past.

“Cement absorbs water faster than stones and lime mortar, and it dries up more slowly than the original materials. As a result, it causes disintegration in the original structure of a historical site.”

According to the chief of the Lahore-based Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre, Yasmin Cheema, cement pointing on horizontal surfaces, especially in front of the gates of Ranikot, creates small pits which accumulate rainwater. She points out that impurities in rainwater seep into the original structure and cause its swift deterioration.

Critics believe that a metalled road has been laid right up to Meerikot to facilitate VIPs who often descend on the site.

According to the Sindh and Balochistan chief of the archaeology department, Qasim Ali Qasim, the “Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites” gives an international framework for the preservation and restoration of ancient buildings.

“It appears that in the restoration work of Ranikot, no plan, guidelines or conservation manual have been followed,” he says.