The unchecked conversion of residential buildings inside the Walled City into commercial plazas is posing a threat to the cultural heritage of the provincial metropolis. And, to think that all this is happening right under the nose of the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA).
Established in 2012, the WCLA was declared autonomous and supposed to dedicatedly run the functions of the interior Lahore. The objectives of the authority included identification of the heritage value of the Walled City of Lahore, and making a master plan for its conservation and restoration.
The WCLA is also responsible for preserving heritage of the Walled City by providing adequate access through streets, roads, safe pipelines for water and sewerage as well as related electricity and communication networks. Besides, it was supposed to temporarily take over the private buildings for restoration and then return them to their owners/occupants, while also promoting tourism and cultural activities inside the Walled City.
Presently, however, you find that illegal construction and conversion of heritage buildings into commercial plazas are going on, while Kamran Lashari, Director General WLCA, seems helpless. “I can’t stop anyone from converting their building into a plaza,” he is quoted as saying.
The construction mafia has assumed control of most parts of the Walled City such as the Shah Alam Market, Sheranwala Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Taxali Gate, and Mochi Gate. As a result, hundreds of residential buildings are being converted into godowns, basements, or multi-storey plazas.
Sources reveal that illegally constructed buildings are to be found in Gujjar Gali, Shahi Muhalla, Said Mitha Bazar, Pani Wala Talab, Koocha Ghosia Naya Bazar, Chowk Sooter Mandi, Pari Mahal, Sohawala Chowk, Pipal Vehra Tawela Nawab Sahab, Gul Begum Gali, and so on.
Jamil Shah, a resident of Sooa Bazar (Gold Market) says the entire façade of the buildings on Shah Alam Main Road and the adjacent markets have fallen prey to commercialisation. “Despite WCLA’s disapproval of these building plans, commercial structures are appearing every other day.”
The city has already lost the old Tarannum Cinema in Taxali Gate, while several buildings with archeologically rich façade have all been converted into multi-storey commercial plazas at Chowk Taxali as well as on the main road in Shah Alam.
The seriousness of the situation can be ascertained from the fact that none of the newly constructed or under construction buildings have been approved by the authority. In fact, all such constructions are being done on the ‘verbal’ directions of higher management in the WCLA, as the Lahore High Court (LHC) stopped the authority from approving maps, which meant no one could construct any kind of building.
It is strange to note that the top management of the authority didn’t take any action against the officers who allowed the construction of commercial buildings against the building bylaws in the Walled City.
Najmus Saqib, Director Planning and Conservation, WCLA, claims that most construction work is carried out at night time: “We have deputed teams to watch over any sort of illegal construction. We have divided the Walled City into nine zones, and each zone is being vigilantly observed. The Building Control Department is trying its best to overcome the issue.”
Dilapidated buildings are also a problem, as a majority of the residents cannot afford to redo their buildings. It is the responsibility of the WCLA to help them out. But, it seems the authority is heedless.
Agha Hisham, a resident of Mochi Gate, says the residents of many old buildings that need repair sought help from the WCLA but nothing has come of it so far. “Recently, an old building collapsed in which three people lost their lives.”
Lashari says the authority is facing severe resentment from the traders’ community, and it is impossible for the authority to stop them from converting their buildings into commercial plazas.
When quizzed about the role of the authority in stopping illegal constructions, the DG WCLA says he has to attend a meeting somewhere and went away.