HARIPUR: A local court on Saturday stopped the communication and works department and contractor from demolishing or making changes to the structure of the historic Harkishan Garh Fort.

Jawad Habib and two other moved the court of Civil Judge-VIII Mohammad Shoaib complaining that the communication and works department has awarded a contract for the establishment of tehsil offices after the demolition of the historic fort.

They claimed that the fort had an archaeological importance and needed to be properly conserved in line with the Antiquities Act, 1979, and KP Antiquities Act, 1997, and therefore, the communication and works department and the contractor should be immediately stopped from demolishing it or carrying out any changes to it.

The court provided them a temporary relief by issuing a stay order against the fort’s demolition and served notices to the deputy commissioner of Haripur, executive engineer of the C&W department, contractor Waheedullah, provincial chief secretary, archaeology secretary, commissioner of Hazara division and others for filing their respective replies to the petitioners by Tuesday (Dec 18).

When contacted, sub-divisional engineer of the C&W department Syed Jaffar Shah said the government had approved a grant of Rs100 million for the construction of revenue offices after the demolition of the houses, which the fort had been housing since the British era.

He said the offices to be built included muhafiz khana and those for tehsildar and naib tehsildar.

Spread over an area of  70 kanals, the historic fort was built during 1822-23 by the then governor of Hazara, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa. The Sikhs had made their way to the valley of Hazara after annexing Kashmir in 1818 after facing a tough fight from the locals.

According to Hazara Gazetteer 1883-84, governor Nalwa founded Harkishan Garh Fort and Haripur town on the advice of Mukadam Musharraf, the chief of the Gujjar tribe, to maintain the Sikhs’ conquest of Hazara. Subsequently, the strategic fort was used a base for further advances and served as a key defence position.

In 1848, the fort was turned into the district headquarters of the British administration from 1849-53, before Major James Abbott relocated the headquarters to Abbottabad.

It is encircled by a strategically important 20 feet deep and 60 feet wide trench to protect the garrisoned Sikh forces. Four yards thick and 16 yards high carved stone walls with two tall wooden gates represent the magnificent masonry work of Sikhs.

Though in bad shape at several places due to neglect, the walls from the eastern and northern side of the fort are still visible. However, the wooden gates that the Sikh forces built to protect the inhabitants have been either stolen or taken away either by the police and revenue officials occupying the fort since British era or the contractors.

The fort has remained exposed to encroachment by the government departments. The police department was the first to occupy its western part and set up city police stations and police lines, the tehsil municipal administration constructed an overhead water tank, and the district administration constructed a three-storey building of the district accounts offices.

The TMA filled the historic trench with earth and cement in the last two months to turn it into the Woman and Children Park.

Local social activist Mohammad Ahsan Khan said changes or damage to historical sites was a crime under the NWFP Antiquities Act, 1997.

He suggested that the government take steps for the preservation of historical sites, including the fort, and shift all offices departments from there.