LAHORE: As many as 3,220 illegal encroachments surround 109 historical sites and buildings in the city, a report compiled by the Archaeology Department says.

On the court’s orders, the district coordination officer (DCO) held meetings with the federal and provincial archaeological departments along with the Revenue Department, the Auqaf Department, the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and the town officials, and directed the officials to remove illegal encroachments near historical sites. However, only the Data Gunj Bukhsh Town administration initiated action and removed some encroachments including constructions en route to Qutbuddin Aibak’s tomb situated in Anarkali, a girls’ school at the back of a telephone exchange in Mozang, shops, markets and houses on the road leading to Mayo Hospital.

Archaeology Department Director Shahbaz Khan said according to the Punjab Special Premises Preservation Ordinance 1885, any permanent or temporary construction was illegal within a 200-foot radius of historical sites. He alleged the town administration and officials from the Board of Revenue, the Revenue and Auqaf departments and the ETPB allowed the encroachers to build shops and markets. At some historical places, he said, the Auqaf Department had rented out shops, whereas the town administration had issued short-term stay rights to the encroachers. A rim market has been constructed near the Lahore Fort and has 100 shops.

Five out of six archaeological sites located in Data Gunj Bukhsh Town are shrines, outside which the Auqaf Department has rented out shops. The Board of Revenue has been asked to point out and take action against illegal shops outside Islamia College Civil Lines. On the court’s orders, the Shalamar Town administration also tried to remove illegal constructions, but could not succeed because the encroachers had reconstructed the shops and stalls demolished during the operation in Data Gunj Bukhsh Town.

Lahore Fort Curator Afzal Khan said Lahore Commissioner Khusrau Pervez Khan on July 11 chaired a meeting of the Lahore, Kasur, Nankana Sahib and Sheikhupura DCOs and directed them to remove all encroachments within 200 feet of cultural heritage sites. In case there was a private property, the owner should be compensated with money or a place nearby. On the commissioner’s directions to start operation within 24 hours on illegal shops and buildings near Shalamar Garden, Jehangir’s Tomb, Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort, the Revenue Department officials have completed the survey of the illegally occupied state land and the private buildings within the radius. DCO Sajjad Ahmad Bhutta told Aaj Kal that the Archaeology Department director general had been directed to propose a summary in collaboration with the Revenue Department to formulate a land acquisition policy for those individuals who had ownership deeds. On approval of the summary by the Punjab government, the government would buy the land within a 200-foot radius to prevent any illegal construction in future. He said the matter of rented-out property by the Auqaf Department was also under consideration. He said an operation against temporary and permanent illegal constructions around historical sites had been started. He said a bank and offices of a few other departments in those localities was also under consideration.

Source: Daily Times