HARKING BACK: Final destruction of the historical Minto Park

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Apr 13 , 2014


The stories about what was being done to destroy good old Minto Park made me go there on Saturday morning. My old cricket club, Crescent, and its club building have been razed, as also have been rivals Universal and Muslim Gymkhana. The Parade Ground of old is no more.

Opposite it was the ‘hikmat-khana’ of the legendary Hakim Nayyar Wasti. That has also gone as the fronts have been razed and the ugly structures had a pack of truck spare part dealers rushing in.

A new massive motorway, planned by engineering bureaucrats, will raise its head ahead of the knocked down portion of 80-year old Lady Willingdon Hospital, blocking and dwarfing the view of the Badshahi Mosque.

It will then turn and cover a third of the view of the Minar-e-Pakistan, running through the middle of Minto Park and will land just near the entrance of the Badami Bagh spare parts market. The traders are delighted. The citizens of Lahore are appalled. Then it is to be expected that trader-politicians favour their own kind.

This immense ‘breathing lungs’ of the old walled city has a unique history all its own. In the Moghal days, this was a huge fruit garden between the river and the fort and its city. The very name Badami Bagh is derived from the fact that this portion had a huge almond garden. The middle portion had mangoes and the outer perimeter had plum and other fruit trees.

A major portion of this huge garden had open green space where the emperors and rulers carried out ceremonial military parades. By the time the Sikhs came to power in 1799, this was known by the people of Lahore as ‘parade ground’. This name was in vogue till it was renamed Minto Park by the British in 1910 after the Viceroy, the Earl of Minto, which is in County Roxburgh in Nova Scotia.

In the Sikh period, special efforts were made to extend the fruit gardens. Trees were planted right up to the river till as far as Maharajah Ranjit Singh could see seated on his simple throne on top of the Sheesh Mahal inside the Lahore Fort. The French assisted by carrying out excellent horticultural work for the maharajah. That effort and the review of the Shalimar Gardens is still part of the curriculum in French horticultural teaching institutions.

In Lahore, no one is bothered by such niceties. By the time the British came it was seen as “an exceptionally beautiful garden and parade ground” as described by John Lawrence. The name parade ground stuck, and in 1910, it was rename Minto Park. Many old folk of the walled city still call it Parade Ground.

Come Pakistan and it was again renamed Iqbal Park and in the middle the Pakistan Monument was constructed. The law, as described by a ruling of the Supreme Court, stipulates that no public building or construction can be undertaken within a 200 meter range of any historic and protected monument.

If the law had its way, and under the present rulers one cannot expect such laws to prevail, the entire new plan is well within the range of the Badshahi Mosque, the Lahore Fort, the Walled City and, dare I commit heresy to suggest, even the Pakistan Resolution Monument. The ‘Impact Assessment Report’, so experts suggest, is a doctored piece of a laugh.

So once the new highway blocks out the Badshahi Mosque, the Pakistan Monument and the Lahore Fort, destroying in the process the historic Minto Park, also in my view a historic space, the sulpheric fumes of trucks will soon bring the mosque and the historic monuments inside the Lahore Fort to a powdered condition where they will begin to crumble.

The only gainers will be the traders who have already destroyed the Walled City, which is now over 70 per cent under commercial use, and is fast expanding under a Lahore Walled City Authority that has no authority, no power and no vision on how to stop the rot.

But then what happened to the already approved plan to save this beautiful space that was approved after a World Bank-funded report was undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the detailed drawings of which exist in government files.

It was an excellent plan that by-passed the entire garden, providing a dual carriageway around the park, cutting off the road in front of the fort and the mosque. It also planned to have three cricket grounds, excellent sports facilities and a garden to match. The cost would have been a fourth of that now being spent, and we are not surprised.

It is important that our readers must understand that the real reason this ugly motorway to the ‘spare parts’ market is to not let the traders be restricted in their effort to completely take over the entire space that is the historic walled city of Lahore.

Let me explain. I ask our readers to this Sunday take a walk through the old walled city. You enter from the Lahori Gate front and walk northwards; the smell of glue will soon send your mind in a tizzy. Shoe factories abound in old historic buildings, no matter which way you turn, all of which are decaying because of neglect.

Who is to blame for this utter criminal act of neglect? My view is that it is you - the reader - the so-called civil society, the ‘educated’ professionals whose voice is only for their own selfish interest, more so it are the young scholars and students of today who have become impotent, unable to respond to the larger interest of our dear country and city. When the ‘trader’ becomes the prince, at least read Machiavelli’s “The Prince” to know what he suggested.




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