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Planetarium equipment dumped to rot

August 09, 2004

KARACHI, Aug 8: The expensive electronic machinery and equipment, imported by PIA from Germany in mid-80s for installation at the projected sites of planetarium in Peshawar and Quetta, have been left to rust and rot at the PIA Planetarium here, it is learnt.

Out of the consignment, comprising four units, two units have been installed, one at Karachi and the other at Lahore, sources said. The project site in Peshawar is almost complete but there are no signs of shifting the high-tech machinery and equipment there in near future.

The size of the unit is almost same the size of the one installed in Karachi and the Peshawar planetarium is designed to accommodate about 250 viewers in one session. However, the unit meant for Quetta planetarium is smaller and would entertain about 75 people at a time.

The crew that operates planetarium is not on PIA's payroll. Rather, it has been hired by a separate entity, established for the purpose, under the name of the Institute of Astronomy and Cosmology.

As such, the staff members do not enjoy the salaries, allowances and benefits offered to the regular PIA employees though the project is managed by a PIA director.

It appeared that the total salary bill of the 15 or so employees of the Karachi planetarium comes to around Rs100,000. The facility pays between Rs80,000 and Rs90,000 per month as electricity bill.

Normally, some 50 to 60 people visit the planetarium every day with a subsidized tickets of Rs30 for an adult and Rs20 for a child up to the age of 12 years. On Sundays and public holidays, however, the number of visitors goes up many times. Further concession in the fee is given to schoolchildren whereas special citizens are exempted.

Two shows are held every day at the planetarium but on Sundays and public holidays, three shows are held. The planetarium has another source of income, about Rs100,000 per month, from a private party which runs and marriage hall on the premises and pays the amount as rent.

A sophisticated telescope is there at the planetarium for visitors but the equipment is rarely made available to the eager people. Those who visited the facilities many a times believe that people were losing interest in the planetarium due to the PIA's indifferent attitude towards adding more attraction to it.

They point out that apart from three/four programmes developed in the late 80s, there was no addition to its features till date. No attention is being paid to the maintenance of the building which appears to be in pathetic condition whereas the wall hangings have faded, according to some visitors.

PIA maintains that it is suffering a loss of Rs50,000 every month in the planetarium business which, it says is not bearable, and could not sustain it. The EPB, which owns the land and has a viable project of Expo Centre on its other portion, wants to use the portion housing planetarium for some other purposes.

Both the stakeholders have, in principle, agreed to wind up the planetarium or move it to some other place in the city.

APPEAL: Dejected science teachers and students, as well as citizens having deep interest in science and technology, have urged the authorities not to wind up the PIA Planetarium.

At a meeting organized by an amateur astrology society 'Amastropak' at the planetarium here on Saturday, they rejected the authorities' claim, that the project had become commercially inviable, as 'a pretext' and said that planetarium was an educational, and not a commercial, project.

They appealed to the PIA and Export Promotion Bureau to reverse their decision because the facility was providing valuable information on astronomy and universe not only to students but also the general public and astronomy lovers.

Prof Nauman of the NED University, speaking on the occasion, said that Karachi, already lacking a sufficient number of parks and healthy entertainment, would lose one of the best educational-cum-entertainment facility if the planetarium was closed.

Mr Umair, a student of the Visual Studies Department, Karachi University, and many others at the meeting stressed the need for collective efforts to save the planetarium from being closed.

Sarwan Abbasi of the Amastro pak highlighted the importance of the availability of facilities like science museums and planetariums in promoting knowledge of science and technology.

Another meeting to discuss the issue has been scheduled for Aug 15. An Amastropak team, which was given an appointment with City Nazim Naimatullah Khan on Saturday afternoon in this regard, could not see him because of Mr Khan's preoccupations. The meeting has been deferred to Aug 16.