LAHORE: The Lahore High Court administration has decided to tear down decades-old servant quarters inside the court premises in view of the prevalent security threats. However, insiders say the authorities plan to replace the structures with a 10-storey high-rise spread over an area of 20,000 square feet.
The double-storey servant quarters have served as residences of lower-grade helping staff of the LHC since 1978. Twenty-four such apartments are built adjacent to the office of the Accountant General Punjab while another 12 are situated beside the Shah Chiragh shrine within the LHC premises, spread over 550,000 square feet.
A court employee, Baba Bengali, told The Express Tribune the residents have been verbally asked to vacate these quarters that are to be demolished owing to security concerns.
The LHC administration has given them till Sunday to vacate their homes, saying the city police had advised the court authorities to demolish these flats in the wake of the latest wave of terror attacks.
Six adjoining shops have already been demolished while the post office, offices of the building department, panel room as well as the oath commissioners’ shed would also be razed to the ground.
In August 2015, the LHC administration chalked out a plan to erect a four-storey building at this place. Three floors were to be used for courtrooms while the top story was allocated for administrative offices.
While there is a dire need of more courtrooms because of an increasing number of judges, the plan to construct courtroom at this location was recently cancelled, considering it would not be easy for judges to access this building frequently.
But sources in the LHC’s building department told The Express Tribune that a separate building would be constructed to accommodate the judges.
A 10-storey building has been planned to house all administrative offices of the LHC, including the Member Inspection Team office, copy branch, building branch, computer branch, establishment branch, security branch and all offices of assistant registrars, deputy registrars and additional registrars.
The sources said the oath commissioners shed would be constructed where the servant quarters adjacent to the Shah Chiragh shrine stand now.
An official of the building department said the Punjab government’s architecture department has been asked to hand over the plan of the building to the LHC for initiating construction work at the earliest.
He said the authorities were planning to complete the construction within this fiscal year and to inaugurate it before the elevation of LHC Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah to the Supreme Court.
The official said the new building would be constructed in accordance with the architectural features of the LHC’s old building.
Under Section 10 of the Antiquities Act of 1975, the LHC building is a protected site. “No development plan or scheme or new construction on or within a distance of 200 feet of a special premises shall be undertaken or executed except with the approval of the government,” according to Section 11 of the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance 1985.
Advocate Tipu Salman Makhdoom said the construction of a multi-storey building would violate all these legal provisions and the LHC administration should be cognisant of this.
The LHC’s original building, the central wing and surrounding building in quadrangular design, was started in 1882 and was completed in seven years. Its eastern and western two-storey wings were set up in 1923.
When approached for comments, LHC spokesperson expressed his inability to give an official version.
LHC Registrar Khurshid Anwar Rizvi did not attend repeated calls by this reporter.
Mian Absar, the DSP appointed for LHC security, said he had no information about the threat alert regarding the residential quarters at the high court building. The LHC administration is the relevant authority to say anything about the matter, he added.
Pervaiz Hussain Butt, DSP Old Anarkali Circle where the LHC is located, also said he had no information about the demolition of servant quarters at the court over security issues.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2017.