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Heritage ‘Bhatia Bhawan’ | With Court Approval Razed To The Ground

KARACHI: Despite tall claims, the Sindh culture, tourism, antiquities, and archives department failed to save Bhatia Bhawan, one of the oldest heritage sites in the metropolis.

By the time outcry on the demolition, allegedly by the owner, prompted the department into action last October, only the building’s facade and peripheral structure had remained.

This week, however, the historic structure was razed to the ground. In its stead, there was only rubble on Prarthana Samaj Road, in the Thattai compound opposite Dow Dental College.

As many as 1,739 buildings have been declared heritage sites in Karachi. Bhatia Bhawan was one of them.

Last October, architects and concerned citizens had called the department’s attention to the demolition work. The tearing down of the recognized heritage site continued for a couple of weeks, according to area residents, before the culture department sprang into action.

The building’s rooftop and internal structural framework had been demolished by the time a team led by Sindh Archaeology Director Abdul Fatah Shaikh visited the site and ordered an immediate halt on the construction work.

Shaikh wrote to the area police and an FIR was also registered against the ‘illegal’ demolition work.

The archaeology director told that at least six notices were served to the owner and the demolitions were halted for a few months. However, then a court dismissed the department’s plea and allowed the owner to continue razing the site, said Shaikh. “We couldn’t save it.”

Shaking his head helplessly, Shaikh added that he had been trying to do something. “[But] There are flaws in the law,” he said, referring to the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994.

Around 10 cases have been filed in the past couple of years against such demolitions by his department, he added.

Other senior officials of the department who appeared powerless told that this was the first time that a court had favored the defendant in such a case. They regretted that the demolition of Bhatia Bhawan would pave the way for other owners of heritage sites to raze such buildings.

Bhatia Bhawan was constructed in 1931 on what is today Prarthana Samaj Road. Like other colonial-era buildings in the port city, it was being used for commercial purposes and was particularly famous for housing footwear shops.

Shaikh claimed that his department is still trying its best to have the construction work halted permanently. He did not specify how the department was or is planning on doing that, however, as the court’s verdict on the earlier petition was never challenged.

 Yasmeen Lari held the provincial government and the culture department responsible for the demolition of the structure. Not a single building declared as a heritage site in the city has been marked as such for the citizens to know that it is to be protected and preserved, she said. “The custodians [the culture department] are doing nothing. No one wants to save these buildings.”

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