25 years on, Aiwan-e-Riffat auditorium still far from reality

Disintegrating structure bears testament to authorities’ apathy

Photo Athar Khan/Haniya Javed September 14, 2015
The Aiwan-e-Riffat auditorium has been under-construction for the past 25 years that shows the incompetence of the authorities. The project, launched in 1990, was designed to include a cafeteria, a conference room, an art gallery and an auditorium accommodating 1,800 people. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS


The auditorium that was once imagined to boom with laughter, organise fun-filled activities and become a cultural hub now evokes melancholy. A building is now left with a crumbling fountain and bottle-green splinters of broken windows adorning the floor.   

The Aiwan-e-Riffat auditorium, the red building adjacent to Arts Council, has been under construction since the past 25 years. The incomplete structure is gradually succumbing to ruins that shows the incompetence of the authorities towards maintenance and completion of the building.

Original plan

The initial project, launched in 1990, was designed to include a cafeteria, a conference room, an art gallery and an auditorium accommodating 1,800 people."Since the last four-and-a-half years no construction has taken place here," said a guard employed at the Aiwan-e-Riffat. "This is how the place has been since I started working here." Another keeper told The Express Tribune that he has heard that construction will start soon.

Lack of funds

Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) has the ownership of the project and its officials insisted that the project is almost complete. "All that is left is the finishing, fittings of the air-conditioning system and the final touches," said Niaz Soomro, KMC's technical services director-general. "The structure stands complete." The delay has primarily been due to a lack of funds, said Soomro. "Every year a separate budget is allocated for this project but the funds never materialise." The amount that the project ultimately receives is spent on clearance of the contractors' past bills and dues, he claimed. "The Rs100 million, allocated for this year, is merely on paper."

Government's role

A meeting will be held with Sindh government this month to put the project on rail, said Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui. The project has suffered many setbacks due to the lack of supervision of engineers and inconsistent attention given to the project.

"Over the years the cost of the project has also increased," said Siddiqui. "The project has not been our priority exactly." With regards to the disintegrating nature of the structure, he said that the construction of the auditorium will be carried forward.

Sindh's culture and tourism minister Sharmila Farooqui denied knowledge of the construction of the auditorium. The project lies in the domain of KMC and not the Sindh government, she clarified. "The issue of budgeting is the same with nearly all the schemes," she said. "I don't know exactly when the project was to be completed." Every scheme is limited to a certain time and it is not a part of Sindh's ministry, she added.

Mystery of parked cars

Aiwan-e-Riffat auditorium project also guaranteed a large parking space for the visitors. At present, the parking space is being used by unknown personnel. Some cars appeared to be in a better condition while others have had their covers torn apart, tyres flattened and rusted wheel caps.

The keeper of the auditorium said that the cars belong to government officials who use the space for themselves. On the other hand, Soomro said he had no knowledge about the parked cars. "May be they belong to the contractors," he speculated. "I will find out about them."

Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th,  2015.

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