Mohatta Palace on the brink of conversion

Civil society activists move provincial govt to contest SHC’s decision, next hearing to take place on November 1st


Hafeez Tunio November 01, 2021
Photo: Online

KARACHI:

After much uproar by members of the civil society, the Sindh government has decided to challenge a court order authorising a medical and dental college to be set up at the Mohatta Palace -a heritage building that serves as a cultural institution of international repute.

According to a trustee of the Mohatta Palace, the iconic building was purchased by the provincial government from the ‘Saver Raffle Fund’ with the consent of all the petitions through the High Court of Sindh in 1994. “The order now to rename Mohatta Palace Museum as Qasr e Fatima, and use the space as that of a Girls Medical College, hostel and hospital needs to be contested by filing an appeal in court of law,” he wrote in a letter to the Sindh government culture tourism and antiquities secretary.

In the letter dated October 15, the trustee requested that culture department to move the Advocate General office to file an appeal against the said court order. Sources privy to the development told The Express Tribune that soon after the court order a meeting was also held between Sindh Culture department and Mohatta Palace trustees, who expressed their gravest concerns over construction or alteration of the heritage site’s premises. “The building does not have the capacity to be put it to such use. It is a protected heritage building.

There are restrictions under law for construction in the precincts,” claimed one of the participants, requesting not to be named. Adding to which the trustee expressed that the court decision has come against them owing to the negligence and indifferent attitude of law officers representing the Sindh government. “Neither the law officers nor the culture department took it [Mohatta Palace] seriously, otherwise the verdict would have been in our favor because all stakeholders including relatives of Miss Fatima Jinnah and Shireen Jinnah Charitable Trust evolved consensus to sell the property to Sindh government,” informed a senior official working in Mohatta Palace Gallery Trust.

“Next hearing of the case is fixed on November 1, where detailed judgment will likely be released and Sindh government is expected to file an appeal against the decision,” he added. During the last hearing however, both the parties-plaintiff and defendant- had agreed to settle the matter implementing the wish of Miss Fatima Jinnah to setup medical college for girls. The latest court order to build a medical and dental college and rename Mohatta Palace to Qasr e Fatima has come on a lawsuit filed by the relatives of Miss Fatima Jinnah about her movable and immovable assets.

The case had been pending in court since the 1970s. Initially, Hussain Waliji, relative of Fatima Jinnah contested the case soon after the succession certificate of Miss Jinnah’s properties was awarded to Shireen Jinnah Charitable Trust, which was made defendant in the petition. Mohatta’s history The heritage building that exits on a 2.4 acres plot was designed by architect Ahmed Hussain Agha in 1920s, for Rai Bahadur Shiv Rattan Mohatta, a Hindu businessman. After partition, the building was converted into Pakistan foreign office and later turned into the residence of Miss Fatima Jinnah, wherefrom she launched her presidential election campaign against Field Martial General Ayoub Khan.

The decision to convert the building into a medical and dental college has drawn the ire of civil society activists; generating great social media buzz against the decision. “The building was abandoned and sealed till 1994 because of a dispute over it. Credit goes to the then prime minister Shaheed Benazir Bhutto who listened to us and granted money for the Sindh government to purchase it,” claimed Abdul Hamid Akhund, former bureaucrat who also served as Sindh Culture secretary.

Regarding his meetings with Benazir Bhutto, Akhund said that Rs61.8 million were arranged from federal government fund and after the valuation of property by court Nazir, the money was deposited in Sindh High Court to be distributed among legal heirs of Ms Fatima Jinnah and Shireen Jinnah as per their share. The sum was placed in certificates.

“All parties in the case agreed on the payment. Later, court ordered to sell the palace to Sindh government in 1994,” he said adding that after purchasing the building Sindh government on the directives of Benazir Bhutto launched the Mohatta Palace Gallery Trust, a charitable trust to run it with four officials and 10 private members to promote arts and culture of Sindh. Akhund who himself is one of the trustees was of the view that after four years of renovation work, the building coupled with museum was opened to public in 1999 with a grand exhibition of the Talpur era in Sindh.

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