PESHAWAR: When there are lives to be saved, protecting heritage tends to take a backseat. Regardless, those with a sense of history will be heartbroken when they learn that the top storey of the PGMI Auditorium Hall on the grounds of Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) has been demolished.
There are plans to raze the rest of the structure in the coming days. Although the historic building was in use as the Postgraduate Medical Institute (PGMI) Auditorium Hall and once even housed the women’s tuberculosis ward on its top storey, little was done for its preservation. The administration finally reached the conclusion it was not feasible to save the pre-Partition building named after Sir Charles Brierley.
“The building has become so shaky it could fall on our heads at any given moment and cause human losses,” LRH Spokesman Jamil Shah told The Express Tribune. He said the administration was aware of the structure’s historic significance, but added there was no available alternate.
New construction around the building also did little to help matters and not only further destabilised the PGMI Auditorium, but also the British-era wall which encased the building. The decades-old walls were also removed from the spot.
LRH officials claimed letters were written to organisations to conserve the auditorium, but none of them, including the Directorate of Archaeology, came forward to lend a helping hand with restoration.
“This ward was erected by public subscription as a mark of appreciation of the services rendered to the people of this province by Colonel Sir Charles Brierley KT. C.I.E I.M.S Inspector General of civil hospitals during his 28 years in the then NWFP province. The opening ceremony was performed by his Excellency Sir Ralph Griffith K.S.C.I Governor of NWFP on 11th May, 1936,” reads a plaque outside.
Ever since monsoon rains in 2013 caused massive damage to the upper portion of the structure, there were several pleas from cultural organisations for its restoration. However, Jamil Shah, who was the LRH spokesperson even in 2013, said maintenance was difficult.
“These historical buildings add to the charm of the hospital, but unfortunately the condition of the upper portion of the PGMI Hall had been deteriorating and the administration is not able to maintain it,” he said. A little over a year-and-a-half later, his words rang sadly true.
Standing beheaded, the beauty of the structure that once dominated the middle of the hospital has become a memory of the past. Soon, it will all be gone.
According to laws that govern archaeology, a building with a history of over 70 years must be given maximum protection for the benefit of future generations. However, much like the PGMI auditorium, the heritage of the city has been ignored and is now being considered a burden instead of a blessing.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2015.
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