A recent allotment of 68 acres of land adjacent to the Chawkundi Tombs in Karachi for industrial use threatens the 16th-century historic burial site physically, visually and in terms of allowing future public use - this is an amenity plot converted to a commercial plot to make this sale by the Sindh government to a private owner possible.
The ‘Chawkandi tombs’ site, a sixteenth-century burial ground at Karachi, is an officially “protected site” with the federal level of the Government of Pakistan’s Department of Archeology. It is a cluster of sandstone tombs, graves and pavilion tombs with exquisite carving of geometric arabesques and stylized motifs resembling that of the Samma Cluster at the Makli necropolis. Adjacent to it, a 68 acre plot of land has in 2006 been allotted to a private firm for industrial use by the Land Utilisation Department of the Sindh Government. The land is part of an amenity plot that has now been sold for commercial use, and since it lies between the burial site and the National Highway, construction on it will block the direct view of the site from the road, damage the sandstone with industrial emissions, and makes impossible the future use of this land for public use related to the heritage. The Antiquities Act that protects sites and monuments of historic significance in Pakistan only requires that a buffer area of 200 feet from any such site be left clear of any development, and officials claim that this rule will be followed there. The Department of Archeology states that it has not been officially consulted or informed of this major decision regarding the fate of this major heritage site in Karachi.
With industrial use, the resultant carbon emissions will directly harm the porous sandstone as will the pollution from the increase in vehicular traffic. Since there is no solid boundary wall to the ground, and its layout makes it hard to construct one, increased human traffic is also expected to create more intervention and vandalism at this exposed site. Already, there has been pilferage and new graves are constantly constructed there right next to the historic structures.
The concrete boundary wall of the newly privatized plot is currently being built along the highway edge and is already beginning to block the view of the site from the highway. The back wall of the plot has not been marked yet but the legal requirement of leaving 200 feet clear could technically be accommodated. However, the burial site boundary, running parallel to the highway, which is marked by openly spaced concrete posts, is not uniformly distanced from the actual tombs inside it, which it is supposed to protect. While at the entrance gate of the site the distance between the tombs and their marked boundary is roughly 160 feet, this reduces to only 24 feet at the other end of its length. Thus the technical clause of clearing 200 feet will be meaningless in this case if it is not protecting the actual historic material, nor creating the visual and environmental buffer space needed.
The federal Department of Archeology states that it will be requesting the Sindh government to cancel the plot allotment and hand it over to it through the agency of the federal government. It says that it had earlier submitted a conservation master plan for the Chawkandi site in 2006, which is to be reviewed by the Federal Secretary of Culture soon. However, the plan requests only 8 acres of adjacent land to be handed over to it for protection and conservation, though the department does recommend keeping land between the site and the highway free from development. Public uses are also suggested by the local communities there, which urge authorities to follow a 1994 proposal for creating a public services complex on the same plot. At the moment the plot is only being used informally as a stop for trucks and trailers and can be easily and immediately cleared by the government. But authorities have instead ordered the police to provide protection to the new private owners.
- “Land near heritage site given to industry”, Hasan Mansoor, Dawn, Feb. 27, 2007.
- Lari, Y., “Excursions & Trips - Chaukandi”, Karachi: Illustrated Travel Guide, Heritage Foundation, Karachi: 2002.
- Personal Communication. Qasim Ali Qasim, Director, Department of Archeology (Southern Circle- Sindh and Balochistan), Government of Pakistan. March 1 2007.
*Cross-posted from Culture Concerns Special Interest Group. The author, Ms Sameeta Ahmad is an architect and planner who teaches at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan