Despite court orders, the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) remained unwilling to vacate the Hindu Gymkhana, a protected heritage site that was rented to the academy in 2005.
The apex court in November 2021, while hearing the plea of Shri Ratneshwar Maha Dev (a welfare committee of the Hindu community), had directed the district administration and Sindh government to relocate the performing arts academy at an appropriate time. In addition to that, the academy had also been instructed to demolish the auditorium that it has constructed within the premises of the heritage site, but so far, all orders appear to have been disobeyed with the academy maintaining its illegal tenancy of the protected building.
“Although NAPA is our tenant, we have been complying with court orders and have found an alternate venue for the academy’s relocation. It is in the Jinnah Cultural Complex in North Karachi, but NAPA is sticking to its guns about being provided with a prime location in the city’s downtown area, which is too audacious,” said Director-General Culture Abdul Aleem Lashari.
He was of the view that the Hindu Gymkhana was rented out to the performing arts academy more than 17 years ago, but NAPA breached the agreement when it started erecting different permanent structures within its premises.
“It even built its auditorium and marquees without the express permission of the culture department, which was supposed to be there to safeguard the rights of the host community. It is clearly mentioned in the agreement that the Building of Hindu Gymkhana is a protected heritage under the Sindh Culture Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994, and NAPA shall not make any alterations to the original structure of the building. Any alterations to be made will have to be vetted by an advisory committee for cultural heritage. If NAPA commits any breach, the agreement shall be liable to termination after three months’ notice,” Lashari informed.
According to records available with the culture department, NAPA had started violating the terms of its tenancy soon after getting hold of the location. In 2008, the culture department served NAPA a notice for the termination of the agreement directing them to vacate the premises. However, per the director-general culture, it [NAPA] got a stay order from the court, occupied the building, and refused to leave.
Ever since matters came into the limelight, the local Hindu community, represented by the platform of Shri Ratneshwar Maha Dev, has been actively demanding the evacuation of the historic Hindu Gymkhana, from the hold of NAPA, for which they have also been praying to the court. “We filed a petition in Sindh High Court claiming that Hindu Gymkhana lands spread over Artillery Maidan, Muslim Gymkhana and a plot occupied by Aligarh Muslim University too, but the court rubbished our petition with a direction to file a proper suit,” expressed Dr Raj Ashok, who has been pursuing the case on behalf of his community, that became a party in the litigation to reclaim the property in 2014.
Speaking in this regard, NAPA CEO Junaid Zuberi maintained that they are willing to relocate as soon as another appropriate venue is finalised, “but so far, we have not been issued any alternate land from the government,” he said, excusing to further comment on the issue.
Meanwhile, NAPA’s lawyer Faisal Siddiqui had earlier informed the court that his client never committed any breach of agreement and all the constructions inside Gymkhana were erected on open space without causing any damage to the heritage building. “We have already demolished the marquees too,” he told the court during a hearing.
Regarding the relocation of the academy and place being provided to it by the Sindh government in New Karachi, he maintained that his client [NAPA] is not aware of such a cultural complex and before any decision is made, they would wish to go and visit the location. “The type of cultural activity being conducted by NAPA requires a venue at a prime location in the city so that it is accessible to everyone while having enough space to house a world-class auditorium and related facilities,” he said.