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NED continues work in heritage building despite lack of NOCs

KARACHI, Oct 23: While construction work continues at the NED University's city campus building, which is protected under the Sindh Cultural Heritage Protection Act, the various stakeholders are issuing conflicting statements regarding the status of the mandatory official permissions and the university management is refusing to talk to the press.

Nobody, including the owner, may undertake any construction in a protected building and the Heritage Act prescribes long prison terms and heavy fines for violators. Before such work can be initiated, an NOC must be obtained from the advisory committee on cultural affairs, headed by the provincial chief secretary. However, the Sindh Culture Department maintains that the relevant permission has not yet been issued to NED University. Furthermore, permission to carry out construction work in any building in the city must also be sought from the Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA); while NED sources claimed that they had acquired all the relevant go-aheads, they were unable to provide proof when the KBCA team visited the site recently.

Sources confirmed that construction work is nearing completion in two of the big halls in the building which is NED University's trademark and whose chimney is considered one of the city's landmarks. At least two small platforms, acting as a mezzanine floor to increase seating space, have been added in one of the halls. Reportedly, the construction was carried out under the supervision of a technically qualified person and the construction material used matched the original, including lime mortar.

However, the fundamental question whether the university has followed the rules and obtained the necessary permissions remains unanswered.

U-turn on press statements A few days ago, an NED staffer agreed to furnish additional details about the restoration / construction work being carried out, as well as show documentary evidence of the required NOCs and other permissions.

On Monday, however, the source informed that the top NED management and high officials of its Architecture Department had issued directives forbidding anyone from talking to the press: staffers were asked "not to talk to the press on this issue for at least a couple of months or so. Then we will decide to talk or not to talk."

When this writer pointed out that the university would lose its right to reply if it refused to put its version on the record before the publication of the relevant news story, the staffer said that "the university was aware of this and we may talk to you after a couple of months or so."

Other sources, however, claimed that the university's U-turn in terms of talking to the press was due to an ongoing dispute with its neighbour, the D.J. College. The latter has for some years claimed that it owned the NED University's city campus buildings and since the university had now obtained its own premises which are spread over hundreds of acres, these buildings should be returned to the college. However, the university maintained that it owned the buildings and there was no question of 'returning' them. Sources said that the major reason why the NED University refused to talk to the press about restoration work was because the building's ownership was under dispute.

'NOC not yet issued'
When contacted, the KBCA building controller Agha Maqsood Abbas said that a KCBA team visited the NED campus about 10 days ago. University representatives told the inspection team that all the required permissions had been obtained but said were not available with the NED staff present at that time. Staff-members committed to submitting these documents to the KBCA the next day but no move has been made since then.

Mr Abbas said that keeping in mind that the case concerned an educational institution, the KCBA had not yet directed the university to halt the work. "We will wait a few more days; if the NOC and permissions have still not been shown and submitted to the KBCA, the university will be directed to stop the work," he said.

Meanwhile, the Sindh Culture Secretary, Shams Jafrani, said that NED University had submitted an application seeking permission for construction from the advisory committee. The committee had asked one of its members, senior architect Arif Hasan, to review the project.

Reportedly, Mr Hasan said in a March 30, 2006, report to the department that he had been a member of the committee that had scrutinised the NED restoration project for a federal government organisation in 2003, when the design and detail of the project had been approved. "Since then, detailed specifications and design have been developed strictly in keeping with conservation principles. Therefore, I feel that permission to implement the project may be granted, especially since a trained conservator will be looking after the project," said Mr Hasan's report to the department, as quoted by Mr Jafarani.

Since then, however, the department's file regarding the project has been silent, said Mr Jafrani. Mr Hasan's report had not been presented before the advisory committee for the purposes of reaching a decision "so as far as the Sindh Culture Department is concerned, the NOC has not yet been issued which makes the ongoing work illegal," said Mr Jafrani.

However, he said that he would not write to the university about ceasing work just yet. "We will decide in the next few days what steps are to be taken on this issue, after discussing the matter with Arif Hasan," he stated. Dawn

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