KARACHI / ISLAMABAD: An inquiry has been ordered into the possible damage the Larkana-Moen jo Daro expressway may have caused the ancient ruins.
The Sindh government recently received a letter from the Federal Department of Archeology and has asked the DCO to investigate the matter, Express News has learnt. The federal government had given permission for the expressway project that is being undertaken by the National Highway Authority. Sindh Interior Secretary Arif Ahmed Khan has written the DCO Larkana ordering him to ensure that the construction is stopped and an investigation started.
“[The work] may affect the remains under the site,” said Ali Hyder Ghadhi, conservator of Moen jo Daro, while speaking to The Express Tribune on Monday. He said that about one and a half months back, when the NHA started work near the site, they asked them to stop the construction, saying that the area was demarcated by the Archeology Department. “We approached the DCO Larkana, but he did not give us a positive response,” Ghadhi said.
“We are not opposing any development work, but demand that an archeological examination be conducted in order to ascertain whether more remains are in the area.” The Moen jo Daro archeological remains, spread over 555 acres, is a protected world heritage site according to Unesco. And while the federal government granted Sindh custody of 129 of its archeological heritages, Moen jo Daro stayed with Islamabad. For its part, the National Highway Authority has said that it is incurring a loss of Rs2 million every day for the past 12 days because the Ministry of Culture has stopped work on the Moen jo Daro Highway Project.
In November 2009 and then in February and April, the Ministry of Culture has been reminding the NHA of the importance of the site. The Department of Archeology has confirmed that the site has been damaged by destruction of a water channel built to drain rain water and salt water from the site as instructed by international archeological experts. It is believed the safety bund has been destroyed and illegal digging has taken place. “Yes, it is of great concern,” said an official from the archaeology department.
“Does the NHA consider the importance of this great heritage as it is considered a criminal activity to build a road though the remains of this national treasure.” Culture secretary Moinul Islam Bukhari said that the NHA should have consulted the ministry before starting construction. He said that the ministry has asked the Department of Archeology to consult them and come up with a possible solution. One option could be the realignment of the four-lane road.
He said the NOC will not be issued until the Department of Archeology clears the project. Confusion The project is a 28km four-lane expressway with four bypasses, connecting Larkana city to the Moen jo Daro Airport and the NHA maintains it is 100 to 150 feet away from the protected site. NHA Chairman Chaudry Altaf said, “The DCO Larkana approved the project. I do not understand the reason for the delay regarding the NOC which was supposed to be given after a few days of the submission of the application.” He pointed out that another road was constructed there over two years ago by the local government and no objections were made then.
NHA Sukkur General Manager Abdul Aziz said that the mega project was in the “greater national interest” and its orders came from the president. “We are outside the protective bund (embankment) and there is no threat to the archaeological site,” he maintained. “The NHA was only increasing the number of lanes for the already existing road to the north of the Moenjadaro Road.” It is believed that Unesco has written its head office in Paris for advice. The body provides technical assistance and facilitates Pakistan’s government only when requested, otherwise under no circumstances do they interfere.
“We are following the news which is being published and are still puzzled as to why the government has not approached us yet,” said a Unesco representative in Islamabad. According to Unesco, the protection of Moen jo Daro started in 1973, came to a halt in 1997 and the programme was reactivated in 2002. There are seven sites from which Moen jo Daro is listed at the top. Unesco developed a master plan for the Lahore fort and Shalimar. The Shalimar gardens’ hydraulic system was damaged during Shahbaz Sharif’s tenure when they were building a road through the gardern.