KARACHI: Amid the legal controversy between Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and the Sindh government over its ownership rights, the restoration and renovation of Frere Hall and its garden kicked off last week.
The famous Icon was constructed in 1863 as the first town hall of Karachi and was named after the then Sindh commissioner Sir Bartle Frere.
Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last year and handed over the city’s iconic colonial building to the Guardians Trust, a group of architects and prominent citizens, to protect and restore the heritage building. The mayor’s decision created controversy when the Sindh government protested against the decision and termed the MoU illegal.
The then local government secretary Muhammad Ramzan Awan, in a letter written to the mayor, referred to the Local Government Act, 2013, and said, “You are requested not to hand over said building declared as National Heritage (Frere Hall) to anyone for any purpose. If the KMC is going to implement any project or programme regarding Frere Hall then the proposal may be submitted for approval to the government of Sindh”.
According to officials of Sindh government, since the Frere Hall is a heritage building, the approval of the committee on heritage is required for any type of work, restoration or otherwise, to be carried out on the building. “The mayor has no authority to hand over this heritage building to a group of people without the approval of the provincial government and its heritage committee,” said Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, former antiquities secretary and member of the advisory committee on heritage. “I wonder how they have started work on the building and its garden. It is illegal,” he added.
Officials in the KMC department, however, were of the opinion that since the ownership rights lie with the KMC, it can make such decisions. “The city council has already passed a resolution to hand over the building and renovate it,” said Akhtar.
Jamal Yousuf, a former Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) chief and a member of the Guardians Board, defended the initiative and said that Karachi was Pakistan’s cultural centre and through the renovation and restoration of Frere Hall, their dream had come true.
According to the original plan shared by the board of trustees, the building would be restored to its past glory. “The Frere Hall continued to be for a long time the subject of utter neglect, disuse and damage. The Guardians Board was formed to protect and preserve the architectural heritage and public spaces of Karachi. The restoration of Frere Hall and its gardens has proven to be a challenging task for them. The trustees include journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, Amin Hashwani, Arshad Tayebaly, Asif Fancy, Kalim Farooqui, Pervez Said, Durriya Kazi, SM Tariq Huda, Yawar Jilani and Saleem Khan.
In the inaugural ceremony of this project, members of the Guardians Trust also appealed to the business community, philanthropists and others to contribute for this cause.
The plan includes restoration of around 100 benches and setting up around 50 lampposts in the park. The plan also includes the provision of lighting of the building and grounds, security and warden services, rubbish bins, repairs of damaged pathways, activation of the damaged and vandalised water fountain, installation of a tube well to address water shortage, cleaning and painting of fences, security barriers, topiary, mapping of the grounds with a focus on the details of vegetation, sculptures and fountain, visual documentation of the exterior and interior of the building and ground.
During a presentation, architect Shahid Abdulla, who is one of the trustees of the board, said that the South-Western end of the building would be revived by an authentic restoration of the old Eduljee Dinshaw Fountain. “The area where Queen Victoria’s statue once stood is demarcated for an interactive water feature and the space around it will be paved to give another square, called ‘Queen’s square’,” he said.
He said the East side of the garden was currently being used for traffic and car parking. He added that the King’s park is proposed to be pedestrianised and vehicle free. “The King’s park is now proposed to be the Jinnah Square and it will be home to a very modern, state-of-the-art library. The existing library will be converted into a cultural centre and will be home to an art gallery,” said Abdulla.