LHC halts demolition of Governor House’s boundary walls

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–Historians, civil society react to govt’s decision of pulling down walls

LAHORE: Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday ordered halting the demolition work of Governor House Lahore’s boundary walls, following which the civil society took a sigh of relief as the decision of the government had not been very well received by the masses.

A small part of the fence over the wall on The Mall side of the governor’s residence had been demolished when Justice Mamoonur Rasheed of the LHC passed the orders and warned of a strict action against anyone who continued the process.

Earlier in the day, a petition against the demolition of the walls was filed in the high court. According to the petitioner, the walls of the building could not be razed as the structure was historical and it was “illegal to cause harm to a heritage site”.

The process of demolishing the walls of the Governor House had started on Sunday on directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan, whereas Governor Chaudhry Sarwar himself was monitoring the process.

Speaking on the occasion, Sarwar had said the perception that the government wanted to bulldoze the Governor House was not true. “The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), before elections, had pledged to demolish the walls and open the Governor’s House for the public.”

To a question, he had said the decision to convert the building into a library or a museum would be taken by the prime minister.

According to sources, Lahore Deputy Commissioner (DC) Saleh Saeed had also excused to Punjab chief secretary and said that it was not the district administration’s mandate to make decisions over old and historic sites that came under Special Premises Ordinance.

“Almost Rs580 million were to be spent on the erection of iron grills after the demolition of the wall. No advisor or so-called intellectual in the prime minister’s team advised him to utilise that money on restoring other heritage sites that are in a deplorable condition, especially on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road and northern side of the city,” sources said.

They added that the government had made tall claims of bringing change, but causing harm to a heritage site was not acceptable and the masses had rejected this kind of “so-called change”.

PUBLIC REACTION TO DEMOLITION:

A representative of the civil society and an ex-employee of the Governor House, Abdullah Malik, while talking to Pakistan Today, said that it was a heritage site and those who didn’t consider it one were mistaken.

Punjab Information Minister on Saturday had termed the Governor House as “just an office” while saying that it was “not a historic place”.

“I have been an employee there and know its importance as a heritage site. There are several monuments inside the Governor House and I can only wonder how did the government decide to pull down its walls.” He added that the government needed to follow the Punjab Special Premises Ordinance, as the prime minister had no power to intervene in the matters of provincial heritage sites.

“There should have been a committee formed for the execution of this decision and the government that claims to abide by the rules is itself bypassing them,” he said, lauding the high court’s decision to halt the demolition.

“This is colonial history, we need to preserve the entire Governor House so that we can tell our future generations how the British ruled this region. Demolishing the walls and placing a fence is wasting money,” historian Syed Faqir Saifuddin said while speaking to this scribe.

The doors of the Governor House, he added, should be opened for the public but while maintaining its sanctity.

Lawyer Azhar Siddiq, who is also a petitioner in the case, told Pakistan Today that Special Premises Ordinance 1985 gave the right of such decisions to the Archaeology director general or the committee prescribed in the ordinance, which is to be headed by the chief secretary concerned.

“If it is a policy decision then it should have been decided by the cabinet and discussed in the parliament,” he added.

Meanwhile, Punjab Archaeology Director General Zahid Gondal told Pakistan Today that the Governor House was a declared special premise as per the ordinance.

“The sanctity of special premises is clearly mentioned under sections 3 and 5. However, whether or not its boundary walls are a part of the heritage is debatable.”