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Bylaws at last

With the introduction of the heritage building bylaws — for the first time since the partition — the Walled City of Lahore should finally have a safer future

Bylaws at last
For Walled City residents, the bylaws would help to rebuild and protect their places. — Photos by Rahat Dar

The Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) is going ahead with what happens to be the country’s first ever heritage building bylaws, beginning next month. The idea is obviously to protect the area which boasts many a historic, aesthetic, architectural and cultural monuments dating back to the Mughal period from freaky commercialisation, ill-planned residential construction, eccentric land use and modern developments.

The said bylaws are titled the Walled City of Lahore Building Regulations 2014. The draft document, composed of 45 pages, has been under final review for the past 15 days and should come into effect mid-July. The WCLA has collaborated with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and Urban Unit to design the draft.

Building bylaws were much needed, especially since the restoration work commenced eight years back inside the Walled City where gorgeous homes decked in ancient architecture were turned into commercial shops and godowns and the residents started relocating as peace and quiet vanished.

In the first phase of restoration, a Royal Trail (Shahi Guzargah) restoration project got underway. Around 56 streets and 80 properties were restored at the Delhi Gate, Shahi Hammam, Gali Soorjan Singh, Haveli Mian Sultan, Haveli Bej Nath, Dina Nath Well, Wazir Khan Mosque and Kotwali Chowk. The project is almost 90 percent complete and is expected to be a big tourist draw. The next three phases shall begin soon.

As the WCLA was without a set of building bylaws, the restoration work encountered numerous problems that led to inordinate delay and slowed down the pace of work.

“It was gigantic a task for the WCLA,” says Nadeem Shahid, a senior official of the Authority. “It further became difficult when we came to know that Pakistan has never had heritage building bylaws even though the country boasts hundreds of historical monuments and archeological sites.”

Any excavation, demolition or construction of buildings which is likely to affect the stability of any adjoining properties and infrastructure shall not be allowed.

The challenge, he adds, was readily accepted and work was started on the drafting of the regulations, mapping out all prerequisites with inputs from concerned experts, architects, building planners, city planners, structural engineers, consultants and others.

It may be mentioned here that in the subcontinent, conservation bylaws were introduced when Emperor Ashoka ordered to conserve wildlife in the 3rd century BC. In the 14th century AD, Firuz Shah Tughlaq ordered to protect the ancient buildings.  Later, during the British Rule, the Bengal Regulation was passed in 1810, followed by the Madras Regulation in 1817. These regulations invested in the government the power to intervene whenever the public buildings were under threat of misuse. Then in 1863, an Act was passed that authorised the government to “prevent injury to and preserve buildings remarkable fortheir antiquity or for their historical or architectural value.

According to WCLA Director General Kamran Lashari, “Heritage talks about monuments, museums and dead sites. But the WCLA wants to showcase the Walled City as a living heritage full of food, festivals and culture.”

Interestingly, the community remains divided on the issue of the imposition of the building bylaws. The residents hail the step, terming the bylaws as helpful in rebuilding and protecting the places.

Mansoor Rana, a resident of Delhi Gate, says that his family has been based in the Walled City since Partition. “Our home exterior was badly damaged overtime. Even if we had the money, we would not be able to restore its original look. The government started work and returned to us what we had lost.”

Meanwhile, the commercial building owners rate the bylaws as a bane. Jehangir Butt, the owner of a plaza at Kotwali Chowk, says he bought a dilapidated structure, razed it and built a new building over 10 years ago. “Already, our business is faced with an economic crunch and now these nonsensical bylaws are being imposed.”

Commercial building owners have threatened to take to the streets if their businesses are affected.

Commercial building owners have threatened to take to the streets if their businesses are affected.

He also threatened to take to the streets, along with members of different trade bodies, if his business was affected.”

As per the draft bylaws, all the buildings that fall into the ‘special zone’ shall be accorded a special treatment. No one shall be allowed to rehabilitate, reconstruct, demolish and change the use of land. Competent authority may impose any special condition considering factors such as the heritage value of property, the conservation of heritage, building fabric, urban fabric and the status of the property in the special zone.

No excavation, demolition or construction of buildings which is likely to affect the stability of any adjoining properties and infrastructure shall be allowed, say the bylaws. If, upon inspection, the building regulations are found to be violated, action will be initiated under Section 45 of the Act through filing of the criminal complaint against the accused under Section 46 of the Act.

With regard to checking new commercial buildings, knocking down illegal buildings and routing out existing industrial units from the residential areas, all commercial activity shall be curtailed up to 50 percent till the year 2020.

The height of buildings shall not be more than 50 feet. Covered area may vary from 45 percent to 70 percent on 10-marla building. There will be a complete ban on basement if the building size is no less than 10 marlas. Master Conservation and Redevelopment Plan and Land Use Rules 2009 shall be implemented in letter and spirit.

WCLA Deputy Director Urban Planning Shahid Mehmood explains that the Walled City of Lahore Building Regulations 2014 shall take care of 21,000 small and big buildings inside the Walled City. “Our major concern is the density of the 5,087 industries and their pace of further infiltration in residential areas. We hope that the bylaws will keep them in check.”

Building construction will be carried out using superior quality material and workmanship in accordance with applicable building codes and engineering standards.

With regard to appearance and stylistic features, everything shall be as per approved building plans. New stylistic features in harmony with the traditional built environment may be proposed but the decision of the competent authority shall be final.

In general, the exterior of all new construction shall have to follow the aesthetic characteristics of the historic buildings in the Walled City. External plaster rendering and plaster mouldings will be of material historically used. Projections including jharokas, balconies, chhajjas and shades and supporting brackets will be allowed.

Materials to be used in the manufacture of doors and windows shall have to be in harmony with the traditional material. Colours to be used will be those traditionally used. Luminous paints shall not be allowed. Anyone intending to carry out works will have to submit to the authority an application in writing for obtaining permission to start any work like new construction, alteration and addition.

All cellular companies desirous of installing BTS towers or antennas shall have to submit a site plan, site details (whether to install it on rooftop/building premises or open land), a structural stability certificate, the detailed design of tower etc. In case of any loss of life or property, the concerned cellular company shall be bound to pay up Rs1 million to each victim’s family.

Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s Technical Consultant Shahid Makhdoom says the Walled City heritage is diverse and includes buildings, monuments, gardens, cemeteries, landscape and archaeological sites. “It can last longer if not misused.”

Makhdoom claims that in making the building bylaws, “people and communities were taken on board. More people are being invited to be a part of it.

“Public pressure works well along with legal intimidation,” he adds. “When people will come to know that something is being done for their betterment, those trying to set up resistance will have to give in.”

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