The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2011.
By Obaid Abbasi
The historical Buddha caves at Shah Allah Ditta have put the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in trouble again. Officials of the civic agency were issued contempt of court notices on Friday for violating court orders banning construction near the heritage site in the Margalla Hills.
Justice Riaz Ahmed Khan of Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued notices to CDA Chairperson Imtiaz Inayat Elahi, Deputy Commissioner Amir Ali Ahmed, Federal Archaeology Department Director-General Fazal Dad Kakar, and Director-General Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) Asif Shujha, seeking their comments on accusations of violating court orders.
The petitioner, Raja Saimul Haq Satti, moved the court saying that despite the stay order granted by the Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench, construction of a restaurant is continuing near the caves.
He told the court that the LHC had stayed the construction activity on December 15, 2010. The case was later transferred to the IHC and the respondents were served notices. However, despite the legal action, work for constructing a picnic spot and a restaurant is still going on at the 2,400-year-old Buddhist site.
“It is the responsibility of the civic [agency] and cultural bodies to preserve the archaeological sites, which are the assets of the country,” said Satti.
The legal notice comes a fortnight after the civic authorities and other organisations joined hands to conserve the remnants of ancient Gandhara civilisation, which included the Shah Allah Ditta caves. Representatives of civic agencies and cultural bodies, at a meeting on September 8, identified 150 such sites for preservation. The civic agency’s Environment Director-General Dr Suleman Sheikh was appointed as head of the committee with CDA members and officials of other departments as its member.
Dr Suleman Sheikh, Director General (DG) Environment Wing of CDA, told The Express Tribune said that he was unaware of the petition filed in IHC. “I think this lawyer has vested interests, I don’t know why he has filed this petition.”
“We are [working on preserving] the sites,” he said. While giving out the detail of the conservation project, Dr Sheikh said that it would cost Rs26 million out of which Rs19 million would be spent on the preservation of Sadhu Ka Bagh which is adjacent to the caves. However, due to financial constraint the work could not be started yet.
DG PAK-EPA Asif Shuja was also unaware of the development. “This issue has never come to my notice however my lawyer will defend me in the court,” he said.
Shah Allah Ditta village is believed to be more than 700 years old and was used as the route from Kabul to the Gandharan city of Taxila by Sher Shah Suri and other Mughal rulers. The Buddhist caves are located on the route leading towards Khanpur, next to the shrine of Shah Allah Ditta.
According to an official, the federal government controls 30 kanals in and around Shah Allah Ditta and is in discussions with the private companies to get more land vacated. “The civic agency plans to preserve the Buddhist caves as well as the adjacent garden known as ‘Sadhu ka Bagh’,” he added. The Japanese embassy has reportedly offered to provide funds for the preservation project.