Taxila-The future of public access to ancient Buddhist stupa and monastery Dharmarajika dated back to 3rd century BC, threatened by encroachments and disputed between the Department of Archaeology and a developer, now depends on an upcoming survey and demarcation of encroached land on the site by the revenue department in the light of orders issued by commissioner Rawalpindi on Saturday.

The survey has been initiated following Lahore High Court directives issued to the Punjab government on a petition filed by two military persons in the LHC under Article 199 of the Constitution, invoking the constitutional jurisdiction of court to bring to light a subject which has severely impacted heritage and historical sites affecting the entire people of Pakistan.

In compliance with the LHC orders, commissioner Rawalpindi Joudat Ayaz on Saturday presided over the meeting called to resolve the blockade of access to Dharmarajika Stupa, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and protected under the Antiquities Act 1975 while all the concerned stakeholders attended the meeting.

The two petitioners Major General (R) Saeed Ahmed Wala and Brig (R) Abdul Malik told the meeting that the path leading to the Buddhist Stupa and monastery Dharmarajika comprising of ‘khasra’ no 151 of the revenue department is protected under Antiquities Act 1975 and keeping in view its international significance and importance, it should be protected being the enlistee of the UNESCO World cultural heritage site. They pleaded that blockade of access to the site amounted to an act against national and international rules which is sending a negative message to the world in general and to the Buddhist community in particular.

The petitioners prayed that the land developer be ordered to restore the path to the site in its actual historical shape while requesting the administration to leave no stone un-turned in fulfilment of the task as soon as possible in order to avoid further damage to the reputation of Pakistan in world community.

In response to reservations of the LHC and commissioner during meeting, the land developer Muazzam Ali Goraya claimed that the gate and wall were built ‘to protect [his] property against miscreants’, and added that no one had been or will be in future refused access to the stupa through his property. He claimed that employees and visitors of Taxila Museum were using the passage through his lands without any restrictions.

Concluding the matter, the commissioner Rawalpindi ordered revenue department Taxila to demarcate over a kanal of land comprising of khasara no 151 inside the boundary wall which is government property but claimed by developer to settle the issue.

“The court is our last hope,” the petitioner Major General (R) Saeed Ahmed Wala said while talking to newsmen, adding that the illegal blockade created hassle for local and foreign tourists to reach the site. Wahla hoped that the court would be able to wake up the Punjab archaeology department from its slumber. “The encroachments blocking free access to tourists have not been removed, even though Section 22 of the Antiquities Act prohibits any construction within 200 feet of protected sites”, he said.

Talking to newsmen, Irshad Hussain, deputy director department of archaeology and museum, said that the matter should be resolved when the demarcation is done by the revenue department. He said that the commissioner Rawalpindi was on board. If the private property has encroached on government land or access to government land, the wall and or the gate will have to be demolished, he said. The path leading to Dharmarajika Stupa has been blocked for nearly 10 years after a private developer purchased land near the site and constructed a boundary wall that blocked access to the stupa. According to officials of department of archaeology and museums, the stupa was one of eight shrines constructed in the 3rd century BC, during the reign of Maurya emperor Ashoka.