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January 11, 2018

Kids’ festival inside Lahore Fort planned despite ban


January 11, 2018

LAHORE: Walled City Lahore Authority (WCLA) has planned to hold children’s literature festival inside Lahore Fort, a protected monument included in UNESCO’s world heritage list, where holding any kind of functions, festivals and public activities are banned.

Some 10 years back, Environmental Tribunal of Lahore had banned holding of any kind of functions, festivals and public activities inside Lahore Fort after which all such functions and activities were held at Hazori Bagh, which is between Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque.

The two-day festival will take place inside Lahore Fort just opposite Dewan-e-Aam on January 13 and 14 from 9am till 4pm and WCLA is expecting attendance of thousands of students, their friends and families in it, besides routine visitors of the fort, which are over 15,000 daily.

Sources in Lahore Fort, while talking to The News, said the monument does not have room for such a huge gathering as it has limited arrangements of public washrooms, canteen and drinking water. Sources apprehended such a huge gathering at the fort may damage it in one way or the other.

They said recently WCLA tried to open a Mughal-style restaurant at the ruins of Royal Kitchen inside the Lahore Fort but the construction was stayed by Lahore High Court’s Chief Justice. “Yes I know holding any kind of function inside Lahore Fort is banned and I don’t know whose decision is this,” said Tanya Qureshi, media manager of WCLA. She said she is on leave and will find out more details. The scribe repeatedly tried to contact WCLA DG Kamran Lashari on his cellphone and an SMS was also sent to him but he didn’t respond.

Bilal Tahir, WCLA In charge Lahore Fort, while talking to The News confirmed holding of the festival inside the fort and said he didn’t know whether it is legal or illegal. “Lahore commissioner issued an NOC for holding the function,” he said and told the scribe to contact WCLA’s higher authorities for any further details.

Asif Zaheer, Director Marketing WCLA, confirmed that Environmental Tribunal of Lahore banned holding of public functions, festivals and ceremonies inside Lahore Fort. He, however, said children’s literature festival was not an ordinary festival and no addition/deletion will be done at the Lahore Fort for this festivity. He said thousands of students will visit the fort and display their special skills such as painting, debating, drawing, etc. so this is why WCLA planned this festival inside the fort.

Malik Maqsood, Deputy Director Archeology Department, Punjab said holding festivals and big public gatherings are not allowed inside Lahore Fort. To a question whether his department has powers to stop WCLA from such activities, he said Archeology Department can’t stop WCLA from holding such festivals.

Rafy Alam, a lawyer and environmentalist, said WCLA has powers to hold any such activities. He said the activity seemed to be a good one but said huge gathering of people may damage architectural beauty of the fort. Section 19 of the Antiquities ACT, 1975

deals with prohibition of destruction, damage, etc., of protected antiquities and says (l) No person shall, except for carrying out the purposes of this Act, destroy, break, damage, alter, injure, deface or mutilate or scribble, write or engrave any inscription or sign on, any antiquity or take manure from any protected antiquity, (2) Whoever contravenes the provisions of subsection (1) shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. It added that the court trying an offence under subsection (2) may direct that the whole or any part of the fine recovered shall be applied in defraying the expenses of restoring the antiquity to the condition in which it was before the commission of the offence.

As per UNESCO, placing of Lahore Fort on the World Heritage List in Danger was done because it was facing many threats to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and its integrity and authenticity. “These include ongoing degradation of the tangible features of the property, insufficient ability to monitor and control urban encroachments on and adjacent to the property, and insufficient ability to control the actions of other agencies which could impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property,” UNESCO’s website said.

On the other hand, Lahore commissioner allowed WCLA to hold the festival. The office commissioner also imposed several conditions such as no political matter/activity, no criticism on government, no procession/rally on roads, use of sound system as per law, foolproof internal security, security and parking arrangements would be monitored by the authority as per law.   Social media activists are sharing pictures/details of the festival taken from a drone camera, which has become talk of the town, and people are preparing to participate in the festival.

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