Buddha era caves exposedto opportunists
July 29, 2011
Ancient sites are one of the landmarks of our country, but unfortunately our centuries-old heritage is exposed to the elements and opportunist gangs. Our over 2,400-year-old Buddhist era caves are one of theexamples in this regard. Situated a few kilometers from Parliament House,the Capital Development Authority (CDA) Headquarters and the offices of DG Archeology, these caves are nurturing silently in the lapof the majestic Margalla Hills near Shah Allah Ditta. At a distance of 15kilometers from the main Golra intersection, the site needs immediateattention of the CDA, Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and the Department ofArcheology.
Last year, citizen and environmentalists diverted the attention of CDA andother stakeholders to the threat of commercialization that may swallowup this protected sitein the Margalla Hills.They told the city managers that terracing work and heavy machinerypresent near the Buddhist site showed that a restaurant was planned tobe built on the hill right above the centuries-old caves and thecluster of Banyan trees at their mouth.
Meanwhile, a lawyer,SaimulHaqSatti, approached the Lahore High Court(LHC) seeking an end to the commercial activities at the heritage site. The then judge Justice Ijaz Ahmed stayed the construction activities and issued notices to the CDA ChairmanImtiazInayatElahi, FederalArchaeology Department Director General Fazal Dad Kakar and IslamabadCapital Territory Deputy Commissioner Amir Ali Ahmed.
The lawyer maintained that the government had decided to protect thesecenturies-old Buddha Caves but the CDA approved a plan to buildrestaurants and a picnic spot at the site. The CDA, which hasalready acquired land for a tourist spot near the site, also askedits environment wing to submit a feasibility report.He alleged that the plan was to open the site to tourists, addingthat such development would seriously hamper the effortsto preserve thesecaves.
It is an irony that despite court orders passed in December 2010,the authorities did not comply with the directions. The samelawyer again filed a contempt of court petition with the Islamabad HighCourt (IHC), seeking initiation of contempt of court proceedingsagainst the caretakers of the site.He contended that the LHC issued a stay order on December 14, 2010and directed the respondents to stop the construction activities nearthe heritage site.He said the court had directed the respondents to maintain status quoat the site but unfortunately it directive went unheeded.According to the petitioner, there were clear signs that a restaurantwas being built right above the Buddhist cave, as terracing work wasin progress and heavy machinery was present near there.
“Due to the negligence of the respondents, the national heritage ofesteemed value is being damaged and the respondents with ulteriormotives are avoiding implementing the court orders. The respondents have committed offences which are cognizable underArticle 204 of the Constitution,as they have violated the orders of thecourt,” the petitioner maintained.Pak-EPA Director General AsifShuja Khan told Pulse that hehad visited the site along with a German environmentalist Hlga Ahmed andfound an under-construction restaurant near the caves.
According to him, somebody without the approval of Pak-EPA started constructing the restaurant. “I haveseen stairs, boundary walls and the other building structure which isillegal. This is an illegal construction and the CDAshould demolish it and declare this site as a protected area.The CDA spokesman, RamzanSajid, said this was an un-acquired land;therefore, the authority had no jurisdiction over the area. He however said the authority had sent zoning regulationsof that area to the Cabinet Division for approval. He said afterapproval of the regulations, the CDA would be in a position to regulatethe construction related matters of Shah Allah Ditta and other suburbsof the area. “CDA teams visit the area off and on to keep check onillegal constructions and act against the violators,” he added.
Earlier, in January this year, in an interview with this scribe CDAChairman ImtiazInayatIlahi had said that Islamabad was attractive forits landscaping, parks and historical sites. “We arepreserving thousandsof years old caves of Shah AllahDitta; we are alsodeveloping Buddha Gardens and shortly starting a double decker touristbus,” he added.He said a tourist could visit all the landmarks ofthe city by travelling on this bus.Despite tall claims of city managers, the centuries-old Buddhist cavesare diminishing day by day. These caves also house drug addicts and sometimes goats and sheep of the local people.