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Plan to protect another 1,000 heritage buildings

KARACHI, Jan 25: The government is planning to protect approximately 1,000 buildings in Karachi under the Sindh Cultural Heritage Preservation Act, 1994, in addition to the about 600 buildings already protected under the law.

According to sources, the advisory committee on cultural heritage, headed by the chief secretary, is to meet on Wednesday to further discuss the issue of protecting certain buildings identified after an extensive survey conducted by architectural experts.

The sources said that some areas of the city still remained to be surveyed and once the exercise was completed, the number of more buildings deserved to be protected might go up.

Earlier, in the mid-1990s, the over 600 buildings currently protected under the act were listed by the government on the recommendation of an NGO working for conservation of the environment. These buildings were found to have high architectural value and judged to be important from historical perspective as they also showcased cultural heritage. However, the sources said, as many as 52 of these ‘protected’ buildings had already been demolished and another 70 partially demolished. In the case of yet another four, only façade was intact, they added.

Since the protected buildings are located in the heart of the city where the prices of land have sky-rocketed over the past few years, the owners of most of them are inclined to rebuild the buildings by demolishing the old structures. In most cases, the new building plans envisage multi-storeyed structures and thus enormous returns.

The sources said that a tug of war between builders and the government, supported by conservationists, went on with one side bent upon demolishing such buildings and the other desperate to preserve the socio-cultural heritage of the city and its urban cultural attribute.

The Sindh culture department asked the NED University in 2006 to conduct a fresh survey of the city and identify more buildings, if any, that could be protected under the act. The university’s Dr Anila Naeem assisted by Ayesha Shah, Tahira Shoukat, Mahesh Kumar, Hira Owais and Wajeeha Laiq conducted the survey under the guidance of Dr Noman Ahmad and architect Arif Hasan.

The location of the newly identified buildings and their number are: Saddar Bazaar Quarters (70), Serai Quarters (100), Artillery Maidan Quarters (37), Rambagh Quarters (44), Market Quarters (98), Jail Quarters (86), Old Town Quarters (95), Bunder Quarters (22), Machhi Miani Quarters (44), Railway Quarters (14), Ranchhore Lines Quarters (160), Preedy Quarters (36), Napier Quarters (109), Karachi Cantonment Quarters (56), Frere Town Quarters (13), Old Clifton Quarters (6) and Civil Lines (24). The survey of some parts of the city is yet to be completed. The sources said that out of about 1,000 new buildings being proposed to be protected, 168 were under an imminent threat of destruction or demolition owing to neglect or abandonment.

Tracing the history of the city, the survey report says that in 1858, Belasis, the then collector of Karachi, made first administrative divisions of the city dividing it into 14 quarters — excluding the cantonment. Then in 1880, Baillie had listed 26 quarters of the city. By the end of the 19th century, more than one cantonment was established in the city. Five more quarters were added to the Karachi Municipality jurisdiction raising the number to 31. By 1941, the city had grown into 44 quarters which were grouped in eight wards. At present, the city comprises 18 towns. The area of Karachi has also increased from 192 square kilometres in the 1870s to 3,600 kilometres at present.

The sources said that these surveyed historical quarters comprised approximately 2.4 per cent of the city’s built up areas. The survey has also identified 26 open spaces in these areas that need to be protected as they were also under threat from the land mafia as well as encroachers, according to the sources, who said the total area of all the historic quarters in the city comprised roughly 4.73 per cent of the Karachi’s present built up areas.

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