The Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) has restored Shahi Hammam, Sonehri Masjid and Wazir Khan Masjid but it does not have a control of these monuments.
Shahi Hammam is under the control of the Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) whereas Sonehri Masjid, Wazir Khan Masjid, Badshahi Masjid, Saleh Kamboh Masjid (at Chowk Rang Mahal), Unchi Masjid (of Shah Aalmi) and Unchi Masjid (in Taxali) are under the control of the Punjab Auqaf Department.
According to WCLA Assistant Director Asgar Hussain, “The authority has restored Shahi Hammam and removed encroachments around it. There were 56 illegal shops on the Shahi Hammam site; we had these demolished, paying the shopkeepers a compensation of up to Rs55 million.
“The restoration work is being carried out by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture with the financial assistance of the Royal Norwegian Embassy. Likewise, shops were removed from around Wazir Khan Masjid after paying Rs62 million as compensation to the shopkeepers.”
Hussain says the control of these monuments is not with the authority, even though “the Walled City of Lahore Act 2012 dictates that the WCLA has all necessary powers to perform its functions including the implementation and execution of plans of conservation and restoration of heritage of the Walled City.”
He blames the Punjab Auqaf Department for doing “nothing to preserve the historical mosques within the Walled City. It just collected rent from shopkeepers and is reluctant to hand over the control of these mosques.
“Similarly, the control of Shahi Hammam rests with the TDCP; it should be given over to the WCLA as it lies inside the Walled City.”
On the other hand, Deputy Director Punjab Auqaf Department Dr Abdul Ghafoor believes the department “cannot give over the control of the Waqf (trust) properties to any authority.
“These properties are non-transferable,” he claims, because these are “devoted to God. All mosques inside the Walled City are looked after by the Punjab Auqaf Department for which purpose the department gives the Archaeology Department funds to preserve and maintain the historical mosques.”
Dr Abdul Ghafoor further says the Punjab Auqaf Department gave the WCLA funds for restoration work at Wazir Khan Masjid and Sonehri Masjid. Before the inception of the WCLA, the department gave funds to the Punjab Archaeology Department for maintenance and preservation of these mosques. “The Punjab Auqaf Department did not want to give the charge of Wazir Khan Masjid or any other mosque over to the WCLA.
“There were 37 shops around Wazir Khan Masjid and all these shops have been removed where the people were doing business for almost a hundred years.”
About Badshahi Masjid, he says, “The Punjab Auqaf Department spends Rs20 million annually for its maintenance and pays Rs0.4 million electricity bill monthly. It would be almost impossible for the WCLA to bear these heavy expenses if its control is given over to the authority.”
As for Masjid Saleh Kamboh at Chowk Rang Mahal, Unchi Masjid in Shah Aalmi and Unchi Masjid in Taxali, he says these “are maintained and looked after by the Auqaf Department.”
He also says the WCLA has not been able to stop the construction of plazas in place of the old buildings. “There are scores of encroachments on Circular Garden around the Walled City. The WCLA should remove all these if it really means to restore the Walled City.
“Additionally, there are 17 tube wells and three grid stations on Circular Garden, besides hundreds of shops and houses that must be removed in order to restore the place to its original shape,” the Auqaf official says.
Curator Lahore Fort and Archaeologist Rustam Khan says, “Archaeology is a specialised field; there should be expert and qualified archaeologists to preserve the monuments.
“All old buildings are not monuments. The WCLA has a mandate to make the old buildings ‘liveable’ but it is the job of the archaeologists to preserve the monuments and the historical buildings. Unfortunately, the WCLA does not boast any archaeologists and anthropologists. They are a bunch of bureaucrats, and a bureaucrat is only a jack of all, master of none.”
As per Rustam Khan, at the time when the Archaeology Department was tasked with looking after and preserving the historical buildings and monuments inside the Walled City, “the structures were well preserved.”