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KARACHI, Feb 8: Soon after partition, the government had taken over the Mohatta Palace owned by a Hindu businessman though he had opted to stay back in Pakistan, said minister Syed Sardar Ahmed in the Sindh Assembly on Friday, also seeking the return of the Hindu Gymkhana to the community.

Speaking during the question hour, Mr Ahmed, a retired bureaucrat who had served in different senior government positions including that of Sindh chief secretary, said it was “unfortunate” that the government took over the palatial residence and later handed it over to the Quaid-i-Azam’s sister Fatima Jinnah.

The minister, who represents the Muttahida Quami Movement in the provincial assembly, said the Hindu businessman was disillusioned by the authorities’ behaviour and said if the government had informed him that the house was required for the family of the Quaid-i-Azam, he would have gifted it to them. The dejected businessman left the country soon afterwards, the minister added.

The information was shared by Sardar Ahmed with the assembly when Culture Minister Sassui Palijo failed to provide a satisfactory answer to a question regarding the history of the architectural gem and the most beautiful hilltop house in the Clifton residential area of the city. The question was asked by the Pakistan People’s Party legislator Anwer Mahar.

Ms Palijo had said it was constructed in 1886 and later on Miss Fatima Jinnah had stayed there so it was also called Qasr-i-Fatima.

The palace was declared a national monument in 1984 and the federal and provincial governments restored and rehabilitated it. Currently a museum was housed there, managed by a board comprising the Sindh governor, the culture secretary and some private citizens.

Minority community legislator Saleem Khokhar asked if there was any representation of the Hindu community on the board managing the palace, the deputy speaker Shehla Raza, who was presiding over the session, said that since the palace was taken over by the government, it did not matter if there was or was not any representation of the community on the board, and she moved on to the next question.

Answering a question asked by Mr Khokhar about the Hindu Gymkhana, Culture Minister Palijo said the matter was in court, but when it was settled efforts would be made to return the gymkhana to the Hindu community.

Minister Sardar Ahmed further informed the assembly that the Hindu Gymkhana, built by the same Mohatta family, was for the community use and though a large number of Hindu community members still lived here, it was also taken over by the government and after many years it was given to some cultural organisation. He said it be taken back from the organisation and restored to the Hindu community.

Ms Palijo said seven cultural complexes etc were being constructed for the Hindu community in different towns, including Shikarpur, Umerkot, Mithi, Thatta and Thano Bula Khan. Responding to a question by the MQM’s Heer Ismail Soho as to why were no cultural complexes constructed in 2010–11, Ms Palijo said no such complex could be built during that year because of the floods and the subsequent rescue and rehabilitation costs which caused a shortage of funds.

In reply to a question by Anwer Mahar regarding the poor state of the tomb of Sachal Sarmast, which could suffer a fate similar to that of Shahbaz Qalandar’s tomb, Ms Palijo said the maintenance of shrines was the responsibility of the Auqaf department and her department had nothing to do with that.

Responding to questions regarding the Moomal ji Mari near Mirpur Mathelo in Ghotki district asked by the MQM’s Zareen Majeed and by another legislator that a place called Moomal Ji Mari was also located in Umerkot, the minister said Moomal and Rano were characters of a folk story that had passed on through generations and that research was also being conducted to find its exact location.

Responding to a question by Pakistan Muslim League-Functional legislator Nusrat Seher Abbasi regarding the archeological remains of ‘Seeraj Kafir’, the minister said it was also called ‘Seeraj Waro Takkar’ and was located near Kot Diji in Khairpur district and it had flourished between the late Harappan and early historic period (2200BC to AD1300). It was discovered and excavated by the government in 1996.

Answering Heer Soho’s question regarding excavations, the minister said the department, in collaboration with French and the Italian experts, had also carried out excavation at Bhambhore recently.

She said the Antiquities Act that controlled the archaeological sites was a federal legislation and now that after the 18th amendment over 129 sites had been handed over by the federal government to the provincial government and efforts were being made to legislate / amend the provincial laws so that archeological work could be carried out effectively. She said efforts were also being made to boost the capacity of the department.

She said the government had also given Rs2 million to Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur for the archeological site of Lakhian-jo-Daro in Sukkur.