Taking cognizance of a Bar Association petition, the J and K High Court had, on May 21, directed the Sadr Court complex in Srinagar to be declared an ancient monument. The competent authority, in this case the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), had been given three months to complete the process, but despite a month having passed since the HC’s orders the process does not seem to have even begun. Given the fact that authorities had declared most buildings in the complex unsafe around thirty years ago, and that last year’s deluge has weakened them further, the ASI needs to take prompt action within the two months still available to it.
Notwithstanding the new risk of possible collapse, the premises had reportedly been up for grabs even otherwise, with the government said to have been keen to sell it off to a businessman for what else but to convert heritage into a hotel, or a shopping complex. Suggestions by the Kashmir Reader in July last year to preserve the site as a museum could still be taken into consideration, should that not impact the status, or the process, of its protection. In comments sought by the HC, its Registrar General has described the Sadr Court buildings as having the history of the state’s judicial institution “inscribed on every brick and stone” and having witnessed the evolution of Jammu and Kashmir’s present judicial system. A sensational and legendary courtroom victory by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, on one of his Kashmir visits is among the many of the historic moments of the old High Court where, according to the Registrar General, luminaries like Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Khan Bahadur Mian Muhammad Shafi and Rai Bahadur Badri Dass, among many others, have argued their cases in the pre-partition era.
The state’s highest judicial authority had understandably ordered with consideration, care and sensitivity on an issue pertinent to its own, rich, past, kindling hopes of some of this sentiment seeping into the impervious political, bureaucratic and social mindsets governing matters in other spheres, particularly with aesthetic and environmental consequences. It is surprising that the Archaeological Survey of India, an institution generally keen to be viewed as responsive and responsible, has been so unmindful as not to get moving on directives issued by a state High Court. As already mentioned, the complex is deteriorating fast, and needs the ASI’s attention to escape destruction.