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Court wants Shahi Bagh restored to old glory

October 04, 2012

PESHAWAR, Oct 3: The Peshawar High Court on Wednesday ordered the provincial government to do away with all structures built on the premises of Shahi Bagh, observing the historical garden was a national heritage and should be restored to its original shape.

However, the government’s lawyers said they would challenge the order in the Supreme Court.

A bench comprising Justice Dost Mohammad Khan and Justice Shahjehan Khan Akhundzada gave six months to the educational department to move Government College for Boys and Municipal Public School and College for Girls away from the garden. However, no deadline was set for the removal of other structures.

The order took lawyers and representatives of the provincial government by surprise as Shahi Bagh houses Arbab Niaz Cricket Stadium, Shah Tehmas Football Ground, Government College, Municipal Public School, Pakeeza Wedding Hall, Fun Land, shops, offices of the district administration, Gymkhana Club, Tennis Club, etc.

One of the counsel for the government told reporters that the order would be challenged in the Supreme Court as it would be difficult to dismantle so many structures.

The bench dismissed a petition filed by Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) requesting the court to set aside four orders of the high court for first staying construction of an international football stadium with the support of Fifa and then ordering the dumping of the project.

PFF said it was a key party to the case and was not heard by the high court before passing the said orders.

It added that so far Rs50 million funded by Fifa had been utilised over the construction of a building and all that money would go down the drain if the court orders were implemented.

Lawyers Gohar Rehman Khattak and Jalaluddin Khan said from time to time different structures and buildings were constructed on the said premises and only the stadium had been targeted.

According to them, a land measuring 61 kanals was leased out by the administration of Town I to PFF for 30 years at the rate of Rs25,000 per annum in 2006. If action is taken against the stadium, then removal of other structures built inside the garden will also be required.

Mr Khattak questioned the historical significance of Shahi Bagh, saying no authentic map of the garden was available.

The chief justice observed that the court was not concerned about dollars going down the drain and rather would follow the law of the land. “We can’t permit anyone to ruin our national heritage on the pretext of receiving foreign funds,” he observed.

He added that the Town I administration had no authority to lease out a vast piece of land for a long duration.

Former PHC Chief Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan had taken a suo motu notice of the matter in 2010 on an application of social activist Shakeel Waheedullah Khan, who complained about the plight of different parks of the provincial capital. The judge had converted the application into a writ petition.

Later, another citizen, Ali Bhatti, also moved the court seeking a stay order against the construction of the football stadium.

Mr Bhatti appeared in person along with his counsel, Haleem Khan Bangash and Ishaquddin Chitrali, and opposed the PFF petition.

He said there were eight football stadiums in the provincial capital and one of the oldest stadiums, Shah Tehmas Football Stadium, was situated on the premises of Shahi Bagh.

They said instead of improving that stadium, PFF came out with the idea of constructing another stadium on the land of the garden.

The bench observed that Shahi Bagh was situated in a congested part of the provincial capital and construction of an international football stadium there was not feasible.

The chief justice asked the PFF counsel how an international match could be managed there as in that case, there would be great load of traffic on the area roads.

He added that the government had already been constructing two flyovers in nearby areas to ease traffic load.

The bench observed that it would be appropriate to select another spot for the stadium instead of shrinking the existing Shahi Bagh, which was centuries old.

The bench pointed out that under the Antiquities Act and the National Heritage Act, Shahi Bagh was a national heritage and the court would not allow anyone to reduce its historical significance.

Section officer (litigation) of higher education department Bukhari Shah informed the court that Government College was constructed in 1961 and currently, it had 8,000 students.

He added that the same was the case with Municipal Public College and that, it would be difficult for the government to relocate these educational institutions.

Additional advocate general Obaid Razak appeared for the provincial government and said several of the structures were constructed decades ago especially the Government College and it would be difficult to find other premises for it.

The chief justice regretted that all departments had jointly ruined Shahi Bagh as from time to time they had constructed different buildings there.

Currently, a USAID-funded ‘Shalimar Garden’ project is underway for restoring historical significance of Shahi Bagh.

On Nov 24, 2011, the high court had issued order, which said: “As far as the construction of Shalimar garden under USAID Programme within the limits of Shahi Bagh is concerned, the local government department can go ahead with this project but the area proposed for construction of football stadium should also be converted to the garden in question and no further allotments should be made by the concerned authority.”