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In a recent meeting, the Ministry of Culture recommended that libraries and museums, which were part of the federal list, be handed over to the provinces in violation of the constitution.
Under the 18th Amendment, more than 350 sites and monuments were to be transferred to the provinces out of the 403 that are protected under the Antiquity Act 1975. All 403 were earlier controlled and maintained by the federal Department of Archaeology and Museums (DOAM) and the Ministry of Culture.
However, even after the passage of the constitutional amendment, the Federation was to keep and maintain around seven libraries and 13 museums besides other institutions in the country controlled or financed by the federation. And the federal government was also to control all the seven world heritage sites.
However, the Ministry of Culture has put paid to this plan.
According to some officials in the ministry, if this proposal is accepted, the Federation would lose some of the most important and ancient libraries such as the National Museum Karachi and those in the Taxila and Lahore museums established by the British before Pakistan came into being.
Similarly, the Federation would also lose more than a dozen museums – Harappa Museum, Taxila Museum, Sialkot Museum and Library Allama Iqbal, Javed Manzil Lahore, Swat Museum, National Karachi Museum, Mohenjodaro Museum Quaid-i-Azam Birth Place, Omar Kot Museum (Built where Emperor Akbar was born) and Bhambhor Museum (where Mohammad bin Qasim is said to have landed).
More serious still is what this decision may mean for the artifacts and manuscripts housed at these places. “There are more than 150,000 rare manuscripts in the National Karachi Museum alone, mostly collected before partition. Who will decide their distribution,” said an official with the ministry.
Around 250,000 ancient artifacts are housed in these 13 museums, he said, adding, “How will they decide to relocate this treasure trove? Who or rather which province will get them?”
The fear, he said, was that the decision would lead to wrangling between the provinces. He explained that for instance the National Museum in Karachi boasts of manuscripts from all four provinces and once the building is placed under the care of the Sindh government, all the other three provinces will start demanding that the manuscripts from their area be returned to them.
He added that the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government had already started pressuring the Punjab government to return the statue of the Starving Buddha.
According to the official, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan would get nothing because there were no libraries or museums in these two provinces.
Another problem that the observers feel will crop up once the buildings are handed over to the provinces is of red tape preventing exchange with other countries; the federal government is seen to do a better job of dealing with international requests. This is why, Dawn had learnt, the Punjab government recently denied a request from the US to borrow more than 200 artifacts of the Gandhara period for an exhibition in America.
“Everything was prepared — the brochures and tickets. But at the last minute the government of Punjab slapped conditions that made this exhibit impossible,” said another source with the Ministry of Culture.
In the past, Pakistan had lent rare and exquisite artifacts to France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Korea and Thailand besides several other states for international exhibitions around the world. These did not just bring in monetary benefits but recognition above all.
Yet another problem was the province`s inability to maintain and preserve national heritage due to their financial constraints.
The proposal to transfer libraries and museums to provinces was bad idea with senators Moula Bakhsh Chandio and Dr Abdul Khaliq Pirzada who are also members of the Senate Standing Committee on Culture.
“All national libraries must stay with the Centre. This is a world wide practice for better care and preservation of historical treasures and promoting better image something provinces are less equipped to perform effectively,” they said. (Source:Dawn)


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