The Sindh High Court has directed the provincial culture, tourism, antiquities and archives department to submit a report on how and what steps are being taken to ensure the preservation of the antiquity value of 129 protected sites/monuments of the province.
During a hearing of a lawsuit with regard to the declaration of properties as heritage sites, a single bench, headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar, observed that the culture, tourism, antiquities and archives department was established with the sole purpose to ensure protection and preservation of heritage properties with their antiquity value.
The culture secretary submitted a list of 129 protected sites under the antiquities Act 1975 in the province. The court observed that the protected heritage sites were required to be protected by the department so that the value of such declared/notified properties was assured to be as they must be.
The court observed that the report would also include earlier and present pictures of these properties so as to see how these properties were being protected /preserved. It also directed that the report should also include pictures from Google.
The culture secretary submitted that they were going to recruit tour guides having requisite qualifications, enabling the local and foreign tourists to provide them basic knowledge and cultural history and historical knowledge in a scientific manner by the use of modern gadgets. The court told the department to ensure appointments were made preferably within six months.
It observed that it is necessary to ensure protection and reservation of antiquity value, and said damage/harm to such properties can result in destroying their antiquity value, thereby leaving nothing but a “building or a place, having no value at all”.
The court observed that the cultural department is required to own its responsibility on a war footing, thereby assuring that there does not come any further loss/damage or defacing to such protected properties.
The secretary submitted that the department would place a summary with regard to the creation of an endowment fund, keeping a room for public at large, to join being stakeholders, while it will become a member of the fund to reserve/preserve ancient properties as notified under the Antiquities Act 1975.
The high court observed that properties under the Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1904 Antiquities Act 1975 are not owned by any private person. It said the matter of ancient properties cannot be equated with that of private properties under the Heritage Act 1994, but with that of antiquities. It further observed that judicial propriety demands serious attention be paid to protected properties, asking the district and sessions judges all over Sindh to depute a magistrate of the relevant jurisdiction who shall visit these sites.
The court observed that judicial officers would be competent to call any respective authority to restore and preserve the dignity as well the antiquity value of ab ancient property within their territorial jurisdiction. It said the deputy commissioners shall also visit ancient properties in their respective areas on a quarterly basis and ensue that the same remain with the antiquities department and no damage/loss is caused to such properties.
The plaintiffs’ counsel submitted that they had been condemned unheard while declaring their property, Saddar Mansion, as heritage though directions were issued by a divisional bench of the SHC whereby the departmental committee was required to provide an opportunity of hearing.
The court observed that a proper hearing of those having interests in such private properties is necessary and the same cannot be taken while making any decision effecting the status of such properties.
The provincial law officer submitted that the plaintiff’s grievances could be resolved and they would be allowed a proper opportunity of hearing. The court directed the authorities to hear the plaintiff on the subject property and pass an appropriate order in accordance with the law within three months.
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