By Intikhab Hanif writing for the DAWN
LAHORE, Sept 28: There is a plan to shift the Punjab Civil Secretariat’s colonial central record room to an adjacent ‘unsafe’ location, putting at risk the province’s vital links with its past being kept alive since 1924 in the shape of official files.
The purpose behind the move is stated to be the desire to create a conference hall on the existing premises of the record room, making officials wonder as to how this was required to be done when the secretariat already has a huge committee room and the historical Darbar Hall for cabinet and official meetings.
“The desire to shift files from the British-era record room to the old IGP block has been expressed by Chief Secretary Javed Mahmood,” claimed a senior official who shared the piece of information with Dawn on the condition of anonymity.
An official directly linked with the ‘reshaping’ of the secretariat premises under the current chief secretary admitted that there was a plan to put a part of the record room to some other use. He avoided further details for fear of action.
The record room is located at the rear of the chief secretary’s block, which was originally the residence of Ranjit Singh’s French General Ventura. And its planned shifting is being described as “an attempt to destroy a purpose-built place and to put at risk vital information on how the province had been run under the British India and afterwards”.
The record room containing permanent (very important) record of the province was originally a hall serving as the main drawing room of the French general. The British rulers had official record of the province, beginning 1804. While establishing the central record room in 1924, they opened record up to 1880 for researchers and educationists while placing it in the adjacent Tomb of Anarkali. This record still lies in the tomb.
The central room contained permanent record of the provincial administration in the shape of official files containing vital information on important events or decisions. The supply of files would come from all government departments bound to shift their permanent record there and destroy the rest of them after every 10 years. This practice continues till date.
The record room is established in a main hall, two side halls and two rooms, and the arrangements for safely keeping files by the British bureaucracy are themselves a specimen of the sincerity of purpose. This has been adopted by all the provincial chief secretaries because of its usefulness and historical value since 1947, and still retains its original shape.
The place was chosen for the record mainly because of the high roofs. The temperature inside and the ventilation are just perfect for averting decay of files.
There are full length wall-to-wall cabinets, made of fine wood (officials say it is teak). There are galleries and wooden ladders to reach the higher compartments.
The shelves inside the closed compartments are painted with special material to avoid termite. Their doors too are painted from within and outside. The doors are feather light, revealing that they are made of fine quality wood which, if available at all, is very costly.
Officials say if pulled, the cabinets would be destroyed. And because of this reason it is injudicious to think of re-fixing them at another place.
The neatly kept record has been safe so far only because of the properly-built record room, but now it would be destroyed as the rooms being proposed for it are small. “There are hundreds of files and we fear that if these are sent to the IGP office, we will have to place them on the floors,” officials said.
In addition, they said, the atmosphere in the proposed place too was not friendly for the old record. “All files containing history of the province are in good condition.”
The official of the chief minister’s team at the civil secretariat could not tell the reason of creating the third conference hall at the cost of a historical place because he said he was there only to execute orders and not to question them.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that the administration planned to break the rear wall of the secretary information’s room in the Ventura House to build retiring and wash rooms for the official, raising questions about the plans of restoring the original look of the secretariat “while preserving its historical structures”.
The secretary’s washroom and side rooms of his staff were earlier demolished to recreate a corridor around the chief secretary’s block.