Cultural heritage: who benefits?
IT may be argued that the wealth of a nation is reflected not by its gross domestic product but by the rights it confers on its citizens. The right of free speech, the right to a free press, the right to basic healthcare and education, and the right of law must surely be the key tenets of any civilised society.
To this must be added the right to own land and enjoy the fruits of the land without state restriction. These rights, once enshrined in the constitution of a nation, provide for protection of the arts, architecture and language of a country.
In May 2011 an advisory committee of the Sindh government was labelled for preserving some 1,061 buildings in Karachi as being worthy of cultural heritage. This was a laudable attempt to demonstrate that the nation rightly considers its architectural heritage as important.
However, the Sindh culture department’s remit would require it to consider two crucial points.
The first was to decide how it would preserve those sites chosen as culturally important, and the second was to confirm how ordinary citizens whose property had been so chosen would be protected from any financial loss from the restrictive ‘heritage’ label.
The requirement for both is money which the Sindh government does not possess in a quantity required for the purpose.
The result is a stalemate where the property owner is confronted by a restriction to develop his land, and the only remedy to de-list is via courts, a process which is expensive and time-consuming.
The solution surely must be that those who consider their land to have been inappropriately labelled should be allowed priority access to courts which would examine the criteria for cultural heritage case by case.
It is axiomatic that sites chosen for this designation cannot be classed as being of true Pakistani origin if they have a European genesis. A Japanese car assembled in the US does not make it an American car.
There are enough important national monuments in need of repair and protection; therefore, it is important that scarce resources should be utilised to keep them in good order. To choose a house or a hotel simply because it is old is to oversimplify a complex issue.
DR SALEEM KARIM GOOLAMALI