Pucca Qila gate collapse FIR filed

Culture dept allegedly tries to save contractor


Z Ali September 05, 2021
Screen grab of a video made by a resident of the area shows labourers using sledgehammers on a wall of the Pucca Qila of Hyderabad. PHOTO: EXPRESS

HYDERABAD:

What seems to be a bid to save those responsible for arguably demolishing the main gate of the 18th century Pucca Qila and its structure from severe punishment, a weak police case has been registered against two contractors. The FIR was lodged on complaint of Muhammad Waseem Shaikh, a security officer of Sindh Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Department posted at the fort.

In the FIR the complainant claims that the incident happened during repair works. In contrast, a letter written on September 3 by the department's Field Officer Aamir Ahmed Memon to SHO Fort police station, the contractors have been blamed for 'dismantling' the structure. A video recorded by a local resident, which backs Memon's version, shows labourers standing over the structure and using sledgehammers to bring it down.

The contractors Waliullah Bhutto and Saddam Bhutto have been booked under section 19 (1) of Antiquities Act, 1975, and sections 427 and 34 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). If convicted, they will get a maximum of three years jail term. None of the suspects has been arrested so far. "They have committed a crime," contends a former director and archaeology expert Shahzore Tayabani.

They were awarded a Rs408.713 million contract for conservation, restoration, preservation of retaining walls and dangerous structures of the fort. A sum of Rs157.111 was released in the last fiscal while Rs57.198 million are scheduled to be released in the ongoing financial year. The remaining Rs179.404 million will be provided to the contractors in the two more years, according to Sindh annual development plan 2021-22. It is unclear if the contract will remain intact or not after the incident of the collapse.

According to the FIR, the contractors started repair work of the fort's walls around two months ago under a contract awarded by Planning, Development, Monitoring and Implementation Cell, Karachi. The complainant stated that he was present on September 2 on the site when the incident happened.

He said a senior officer of the department Naseem Akhtar Jalbani had directed Saddam Bhutto to repair one side of the wall first and the other side of the wall later followed by work on the gate. But, the contractor started work on both sides of the wall simultaneously, defying the directives.

Shaikh claimed that he also asked Saddam to stop working on both sides as prohibited by Jalbani but he did not listen. The wall caved in on September 2.

"The Pucca Qila has collapsed due to poor strategy and method of carrying out conservation work thereof causing such loss of cultural heritage," reads the letter written by Memon to the SHO fort police station. "... in spite of repeated instructions of the senior officers to the above named contractor not to dismantle the same, Waliullah Bhutto and Saddam Bhutto did not pay any heed and labourers demolished the structure of the main gate."

The local residents who witnessed the incident told the media that around half a dozen labourers were seen hammering down the structure. They came down for lunch and behind them the structure collapsed. If they were still standing on the wall, a tragedy might have occurred.

Abdul Haq Bhanbro, a retired officials and heritage expert, said while talking to The Express Tribune that a heritage structure cannot be demolished without approval by a committee of experts. "If razing a heritage structure is necessary, a committee of experts is supposed to inspect the site and approve its demolition. A contractor isn't authorized to take a decision in this regard."

The fort stretches to 30 acres. Its fortification wall runs along contours of the hillock. It was constructed with burnt bricks and decorated with ornamental kanguras of odd shape. The razed gate was the only main entrance opening in the north towards Shahi Bazaar. Only a small enclave close to the main gate remained clear of the encroachment.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2021.

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