LAHORE - As the nation celebrates 69th Independence Day, Bab-e-Pakistan memorial, conceived over 30 years ago, still remains a dream, thanks to apathy of the government.

Being constructed on the site of the first refugee camp set up at Walton for those who had migrated from Indian Punjab in 1947, the monument should have been in place in few years after its approval in 1985 by then President General Ziaul Haq. 

When the construction work finally started in 2006 after a prolonged delay of over 20 years, the project was scheduled to be completed by August 2009.

Foundation stone of this national monument had been laid twice in the past, first by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the 44th Independence Day and then by General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, on August 14, 2005.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah along with Fatimah Jinnah had visited the site on April 12, 1948 to express solidarity with the refugees.

A brainchild of the then Punjab Chief Minister, Ghulam Haider Wyne,  Bab-e-Pakistan was approved by the late President Gen Ziaul Haq in 1985 at a meeting held at Governor House in the presence of then Punjab Governor Lt-Gen Ghulam Jilani.

In 2005, the project was transferred to the Army through an agreement between the Pakistan army and Punjab Government. At that time, the construction cost was calculated at around Rs 2.5 billion.

The Punjab government released Rs 991 million to the executing agency, Pakistan Army Board of Trustees, to start the construction work.

Construction work started in November 2006 over 106 acres of land vacated by the Pakistan Army. The project cost also included the construction of an auditorium, a museum, library, art gallery, exhibition hall, mosque and children park among other components.

After change of regime in 2008, the new government of PML-N stopped funding the project which ultimately led to stoppage of the project in 2010. Consequently, consultancy services of architecture consultants, Amjad Mukhtar Associates and engineering consultant were terminated due to stoppage of work by the contractor at the site.

Later, in a meeting of National Memorial Council headed by Punjab Chief Minister, it was decided to take over the possession of project for its early completion.

During a briefing in January 2012 presided over by Chief Minister, it was informed by project director that Pakistan Army had completed almost 24 per cent of total construction work and the rest would be completed by March 2012.

The meeting was also told that executing agency had utilised Rs 840 million out of released amount of Rs.991 million and was willing to surrender Rs 150 million to Punjab government.

Of late, the Punjab government handed over the project to Bab-e-Pakistan Foundation with a mandate to redesign the existing structure.

In March 2016, Bab-e-Pakistan Foundation gave an advertisement in the print media for selection of new architect and consultant to re-design the original design by removing and altering the incomplete existing construction.

It has been learnt that the government wants to add some commercial buildings to the project by creating space for commercial plots for leasing to private sector for shops, hotels, restaurants, offices and apartments. 

Meanwhile, a divisional bench of Lahore High Court comprising Justice Ayesha A Malik and Justice Faisal Zaman Khan of the Lahore High Court issued notices to Punjab government on July 20, 2016 on an intra-court appeal of Opposition Leader, Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed.

In his petition, Rashid had challenged the proposed new construction on the plea that public money would be wasted if the original design is changed.

On the first hearing of the case on August 2, the court postponed further hearing for a month. The court had also summoned original architect of the Project Amjad Mukhtar for his input.

Also, on July 21, 2016, in response to the official advertisement for selection of new architect to make a new design, architects community of Pakistan boycotted this exercise to show solidarity with its original architect associated with the project for 25 years. From all over Pakistan, only one architect applied for the post. Another one applied later after extension in date.

Commenting on the inordinate delay in execution of this project and government’s move for its reconstruction, organiser, Bab-e-Pakistan Public Forum, Syed Asim Raza Zaidi termed it “unjust, unethical, unprofessional, uneconomical and illegal” as per law of the land.

No government official was available for comment.