Rich heritage, poor keepers. Trouble in the walled city of Lahore


 * Ravi Town begins anti-encroachment drive in Walled City today
* Squatters say their livelihood is more important than monuments
* City officials say govt has been too lenient

By Rana Kashif

LAHORE: Kiosks, roadside stalls, shops, parking lots and houses mar a large number of Lahore’s historical sites despite several raids and campaigns, five months after a Supreme Court order asked the government to remove encroachments from around historical buildings.

As Ravi Town begins a fresh drive against monuments in the Walled City today (Wednesday), encroachers plan to protest, saying saving historical monuments is not more important than their livelihood. City government officials said anti-encroachment drives had been ineffective so far because they have been lenient. Encroachers have been fined, they say, but none has been jailed for the offence so far.

Officials fear the new drive would meet the same fate as the earlier ones and encroachers would return to the sites with new carts or stalls.

Encroachers say they have no choice but to return to their only sources of income. They have put up banners against the campaign saying they would lose their sources of income because of it. Saving monuments, they say, is not more important than saving their means of living. They said they would protest against the drives.

Today’s encroachment drive will start from Delhi Gate and move on to Sheranwala Gate, Kashmiri Gate and Jahangir’s Tomb. Ravi Town tehsil officer (revenue) Malik Tariq said, “The anti-encroachment drive is being carried out according to the orders of the Supreme Court. The encroachments are illegal and are damaging the environment and monuments.”

He said the Punjab Archaeology Department (PAD), in collaboration with the Revenue Department, had pointed out more than 400 areas in the Walled City where encroachments had to be removed from within 200 feet of historical buildings.

PAD director general Shahbaz Khan said his department had done its part of the job and now it was the responsibility of the town administrations to remove the encroachments. He said removing encroachments was important because water, smoke, pollution, vibration and physical contact with the monuments could damage them.

Malik Tariq said town administrations could only fine the offenders between Rs 200 and Rs 1,000. He said the cases of habitual encroachers were sent to courts. He said he could not quote the exact number of cases sent to courts, but confirmed that no encroacher had ever been imprisoned.

The Local Government Ordinance (LGO) states that encroachers could be imprisoned for up to six months and fined up to Rs 5,000 for movable encroachments. For immovable encroachments, the offenders could be imprisoned for up to three years and fined up to Rs 15,000.

On February 9, the Supreme Court had ordered the government to remove encroachments from historic buildings. After the SC order, the PAD and the Revenue Department pointed out more than 3,000 encroachments to the town administrations.

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