Although transition to a new post-devolution system is taking time, provinces are showing
a promising attitude towards preserving our heritage
By Kalbe Ali
ISLAMABAD: Like other subjects, archeology has been devolved to the provinces after the 18thAmendment. The provinces may be pinned hope that they win be able to preserve our cultural heritage and historic sites better than the federal government which meted out mistreatment to them.
However, the fear is that with decentralisation, no central data will be available since each province is responsible for formulating and setting priorities individually.
“The availability of a centralised directory related to all the archaeological sites and some relevant information regarding them has always been a problem in the county,” said an official of the Punjab archaeological department, adding that after devolution, it is unlikely to ever be achieved.
Archaeology is the study of human history and any site older than 75 years of age is considered an archaeological site/building under current law in Pakistan.
Around 403 sites have been transferred to provincial control along with the employees working there since July 2011, including some 154 sites to Punjab, 129 to Sindh, 91 to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 30 to Balochistan and one site
DEVOLUTION IN FOCUS
has been devolved to the administration of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Punjab and Balochistan, where the archaeology department is dominated by bureaucrats, seem to be quite lost and lack direction with regard to a policy about these sites.
Fortunately, the department of archaeology in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is doing a better job and has started to plan for the conservation, preservation and promotion of archaeological sites in the province.
Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have already started taking over control of places of ancient human settlements to assign them their due ‘historic value’. Unlike the other provinces, Sindh has taken a lead in conservation activities.In a positive move, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah announced a grant of RslOO million for the preservation and promotion of Mohenjodaro site at the recent National Conference on Mohenjodaro.
Talking to Dawn, Minister for Culture, Sindh, Sassi Palejo said that Sindh would hold an international conference on Mohenjodaro next year to highlight it since it is one of Pakistan’s most precious World Heritage sites.
“We are proud of our heritage and all the
historical sites in Sindh,” Ms Palejo said, adding: “We are trying to make a policy to preserve and promote these sites.”
She said that her ministry was consulting local archaeologists to formulate the Heritage Sites and Antiquities Act which would introduce stern punishments for treasure hunters and land grabbers.
“Discussions are underway with the Revenue Department to find ways to prevent encroachments at heritage sites since they are made in connivance with officials in that department,” she said. Land grabbers have already encroached upon land in the Chowkandi graveyard in Sindh.
A positive attitude is also visible among officials of KPK. Nida Sehrai, Director of Archaeology and
Museums said that the SPREAD over a vast KPK government was looking forward to promoting historical sites as a tool to attract tourism, but currently no policy was on the cards.
The downside of devolution has been that grave diggers and encroachers are using this period of transition to their advantage as archeology departments are settling under new administrative setups.
Reports have been received about a surge in treasure hunters looking for valuable loot that can be found at historical sites. Especially isolated locations like Taxila are a great hunting ground for such criminals.
In addition, land grabbers are active in urban areas of Punjab where many Mughal sites have large tracts of land alongside human settlements. Officials of the Department of Archaeology, Punjab, acknowledge that these reports might be correct but denied getting any complaints in this regard.
“Intrusions in urban sites or near villages have been a problem and people take advantage of situations like prolonged holidays or
chaotic times like elections, cricket tournament etc,” explained an official Department of Archaeology, Punjab.
Meanwhile, vultures are actively seeking Ghandharan relics because of their high value, both as religious remains for Buddhists and as highly demanded artifacts for collectors.
Apart from many sites in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, one of the most lucrative sites for such artifacts is the land along the border between Taxila, Punjab and Khanpur, KPK. Officials of both the provinces have expressed concerns over what they called the possible surge in treasure hunting. “We have many sites in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa. Almost all the old villages are near some ancient settlements and it is not easy to control such activities when there are so many sites,” said Mr Sehrai.
Similarly, one Islamabad based news reporter narrated an experience about making
a video of a 2500-year-old site in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
“We were told by the keeper that a fee of Rs20,000 has to be paid and an NoC acquired from the department in Peshawar was required to make the footage,” the reporter said. “But, while we were there, the keeper allowed another influential party to film the site without any documentation, so we too forced our way in.”
However, the Director of Archaeology KPK, Mr Sehrai said that the situation might seem bleak right now, but expressed confidence that things would improve significantly soon that the distance between the sites and decision makers had decreased. Before devolution, the decision making authorities used to be based all the way in Islamabad.”Sooner or later, die masses will force the provincial government to preserve and inform the world about historical background of the land,” he claimed confidently.