LAHORE, April 28: The Walled City Development Project is without a head these days and its two main supporting pillars, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the World Bank, are withdrawing in June and November, respectively, this year.
Project Director General Naheed Rizvi has retired from service on April 23 and the seat is vacant ever since. She was given the post on February 20, last year.
Sources claim that the absence of director general and the notified withdrawal of the two main international bodies supporting the project have put Walled City development at stake.
But, a senior official working with the project, requesting anonymity, claimed there was nothing at stake as the Punjab government was quite capable of finishing the task on its own.
According to sources, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture had restored old houses in Surjan Singh Street inside Delhi Gate on the condition that the project management would reciprocate it by restoring houses in the adjacent Muhammadi Mohallah. The project management was expected to honour its commitment without any fail, but the job still remains unfinished.
The Trust has spent over Rs300 million on the entire rehabilitation design of the Royal Passage from Delhi Gate to Soneri Masjid in Kashmiri Bazaar. Though the rehabilitation work was expected to be completed shortly, it is yet to start and the Aga Khan Trust is departing on June 30.
The World Bank too has notified that it is leaving the project in November after completion of its predetermined engagement period of four years. And the sources say that the departure would mean withdrawal of the bank’s loan as well.
The total cost of the project is stated to be Rs1,359.778 million while The World Bank's share in the shape of loan is Rs6,92.818 million.
The sources said the four years of WB’s engagement were wasted because of the local officials appointed to run the project lacked the knowledge required to carry out the related work.
They said actually it was Mr Oriya Maqbool Jan who made the WB stay for two more years after he was appointed as project head.
The sources said the entire technical support to the project was provided by the Aga Khan Trust and its withdrawal in June would rob the rehabilitation of the Walled City of world-class assistance. Besides, it would result in consumption of the project budget allocated for the current fiscal year, they added.
“You need a person to head the project who knows about the development of historic buildings and can persuade the two departing partners to stay. Otherwise, the Walled City would never be restored as per its original plan,” remarked an official.
The senior official of the project said though the both Aga Khan Trust and the World Bank had notified their departures, they could extend their stay if persuaded.
He, however, said the Trust’s departure would not affect the work quality because it (the trust) had amply trained local technical staff. He said local partners had completed 95 per cent restoration of Mohammadi Mohallah and the Aga Khan Trust was not saying goodbye because of any delay.
The official admitted that after its withdrawal the WB would stop funding the project but said the provincial government was ready to provide funds for its completion.
He said the first phase of the restoration of the Royal Passage stretched from Delhi Gate to Purani Kotwali Chowk and not to Soneri Masjid.
But he admitted that the restoration had not as yet been started. He said it would soon be launched and its completion date was June 30, 2013. “After the departure of the World Bank in November, we will start funding the entire project,” he said.
“Yes. We need a person who has knowledge of such work to head the project. A simple administrative official having no knowledge or interest may further complicate the matters,” he added.