SANGHAR: The paint on the walls is peeling off, the doors are broken down and the glass panes are missing from the windows. There is an urgent need to inspect the century-old Inspection Bungalow in Sanghar's Gujri Town as it is crumbling to dust.
The house was built by the British government in 1911 for officers carrying out inspections of the irrigation system in the area. Later, it was used as the central point to quash Hur Movement led by the sixth Pir Pagaro, Syed Sibghatullah Shah Rashidi, who was later hanged to death by the colonial rulers in 1943.
The Inspection Bungalow is located on top of a small hill but it has lost its past glory. Now, the locals refer to it as 'bhoot bungalow' [horror house]. Since the building still provides a good vantage point for the rest of Gujri Town and the evergreen Makhi Forest, it still attracts a lot of visitors.
15 mosques that perfectly capture Pakistan's architectural heritage
"Since my childhood, I have been seeing this bungalow left abandoned," said Alifuddin, a retired government officer-turned-landlord. "There used to be a stable around it to keep the horses but it has now collapsed."
Another resident, Mureed Nizamani, pointed out that the bungalow is still under the custody of the irrigation department. A few employees including a watchman are also posted over there but they never come to work, he complained. For their part, irrigation department sub-divisional officer Wasu Khatri, who is in charge of the area, claimed that the bungalow does not face any threat of collapse as they have spent money to preserve it. "It was in the use of the British government but, after independence, no one sits over there," he said. However, residents pointed out that half-baked bricks were used to plug the cracks, making the structure vulnerable to collapse anytime.
The bungalow comprises three rooms, a courtyard and two separate rooms for servants. Some parts of it are, however, being used by the local police for the last 15 years. "This is a government house and we are also government employees," reasoned the head constable of the local police station but he refused to share his name. "There is nothing wrong with living in it."
Preserving heritage: ‘Citizens must be empowered to protect deteriorating historical sites’
Khatri refused, however, to comment on the police's illegal occupation. Despite many attempts, both the irrigation minister and the secretary refused to comment. Recently, some people had started dumping garbage inside the bungalow and around it but a few notables of the town took action and had it cleaned, said a resident.
An irrigation department official spoke to The Express Tribune about other inspection bungalows in Sindh that are hallmark buildings built by the British government but have now been sold to influential landlords or have been illegally occupied.
"A beautiful bungalow was built by the British government in 1916 on the banks of Manchar Lake but it has also been occupied by an influential landlord of the area," claimed a senior officer in the irrigation department, who requested anonymity. "One can have an amazing view of the lake by going on top of this bungalow, which is actually built from sandstone from the Kirthar Mountain Range," he added. The officer regretted that the original look of the bungalow has been changed by its current occupier, who frequently invites politicians, ministers and dignitaries to come over for hutting and arranges their stay at the bungalow.
Archaeologist Hakim Shah Bukhari, who used to be the director of Sindh's archaeology department, said that government should take more efforts to preserve historical and cultural heritage. "There are many tangible sites in pathetic condition and they are facing natural threats," he said, suggesting the government list them down to conserve and preserve them. "This is our history and the past must be preserved," he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2016.