WEB DESK: The federal government has suddenly woken up to claim that the country’s heritage sites have been mistakenly handed to the provinces under the 18th Constitutional Amendment. The Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage is reported to have moved a summary seeking reversal of devolved subjects pertaining to the Department of Archeology and Museums (DOAM). As per the Antiquities Act 1975, the provinces are reminded, this department is the sole agency at the national level to preserve and protect immovable historical and archeological sites, monuments, and moveable antiques. Basically, the federal government is saying that in the euphoria that surrounded a historic moment when the 18th Amendment was passed giving greater autonomy to the provinces, a mistake was made that needs to be corrected. And that some entities mentioned in the Federal Legislative List but not included in the Concurrent List were also handed over to the provinces.
What has prompted the action is important, indeed. According to a report, the relevant standing committee of the National Assembly observed at a recent meeting that protected sites transferred to the provinces were in a state of neglect and inattention, directing the information ministry to seek a legal opinion from the law ministry as to whether the entities on the Federal List and DOAM’s functions/components could be devolved under the 18th Amendment. Whatever the legal experts decide, the issue that must not fall by the wayside is that this country’s ancient treasures need to be protected. Pakistan boasts six world heritage sites, and 403 national heritage sites and monuments. Aside from the Mughal monuments, the nation is a proud successor of diverse cultures like Mohenjo Daro from the Indus Civilisation that goes back four millenniums, and another city Harappa, also a part of the Indus Civilisation, that flourished around the same time. The ruins of Takht Bhai and adjoining Sahr Bahlol from the 1st century AD hold a record of Buddhist accomplishments in the Gandhara region.
Preserving these priceless civilisational assets for posterity with better planning and protective measures should be evident to all concerned. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case. Often times they are misused to flaunt national pride. Not long ago, federal information ministry under a previous government held an international cultural festival at one of the heritage sites, the Lahore Fort, pitching tents and other paraphernalia to the dismay of concerned citizens for the damage the activity may have caused to the old structure. More recently, the PPP held a glitzy event at Mohenjo Daro to showcase Sindh’s splendid heritage, installing all kinds of modern gadgets to lend grandeur to the event. The show is feared to have caused harm to the site. In normal times, many of the monuments and ancient ruins either suffer from lack of proper maintenance or maltreatment by all kinds of people. It is about time those in authority paid attention to conservation needs of various monuments and archeological sites.