–Monument experiencing security, maintenance concerns owing to nearby living quarters
–Historians demand re-examination, renovation of heritage site
LAHORE: A residential colony, having 43 quarters for the Archaeology Department of Punjab, inside the Lahore Fort is becoming a visible threat to the monument in terms of security and administration while neither the department or the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) keep a check on it, Pakistan Today learnt reliably.
The colony, which was built during the British period, is next to the Akbari Gate of Lahore Fort extending up to the backside of Jahangir’s Quadrangle, but with the passage of time it expanded and the families of employees of archaeology department started living in it by making changes in the previous structure.
On visiting the location, this scribe learnt that the staff of the department has also rented out the quarters to the people other than the employees. According to reliable sources, the colony seems to be built on some structure which belonged to the Mughal era as there are some remains of small bricks structures inside the colony, as British and Sikh did add structures inside the fort. Sources also added that the place might have been converted into the soldiers’ barracks during the British era and later after partition, it was turned into a residential quarter.
Moreover, the sources informed that the colony might become a security threat for the world heritage site as there is no check on the visitors coming to meet the people living there. The residents of the colony roam around in the fort even after their closing time after sunset and visitors are seen coming into the fort at odd and late hours at night as well, they added.
The sources further informed that notorious activities have also been observed in the vicinity of the colony and there is no guard present there at night to keep a check on the residents. The residents were living in an unacceptable and filthy condition which was not a good sight for the tourists. While showing the Akbari Gate, several questions by the tourists and delegations arise about the colony when they see clothes hanging on the grill around the colony, they disclosed.
Sewerage system is also a threat to the monument and water ingress and seepage due to the poor sewerage is being faced, sources informed. Further, they added that during the daytime as well the residents of the colony roam around inside the fort on motorbikes which can cause unpleasant incidents and in past as well few tourists were hit by the bikes.
Some historians and historic references say that there was the Akbari Sarai (guest house) at the location during Mughal emperor Akbar’s rule which was converted into barracks during the British era and now being used as a colony whereas the small bricks structure found inside the colony endorses the statements.
A painter, teacher, and historian, Salima Hashmi said that the entire structure ages to British era but needs to be re-examined.
“The colony structures are old but its current use needs to be re-examined in the light of current functional needs guidelines for the use of heritage sites, as all these have changed with the passage of time.”
“This whole issue needs to examine at a national level. It should be surveyed by the experts to give their recommendations for it,” Salima remarked.
Lahore Bachao Tehrik Convener and General Secretary of Lahore Conservation Society Imrana Tiwana said, “Lahore Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS). Pakistan is a signatory to the World Heritage Convention. No new structure can be built in a WHS as it destroys the authenticity and integrity of the historic site. Therefore, any structure within the Protected Core Zone is illegal and must be removed”.
While talking exclusively with Pakistan Today, Director General Archaeology Department Punjab Zahid Saleem Gondal was of the view that the colony quarters were built during the British period to look after the area and they exist till today.
“Lahore Fort was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981 with all these structures. The fort was handed over to the WCLA almost four to five years ago and I think they would be working on the preservation of the structures of the fort and would also include the colony in it”.
On the matter of the colony, he said, “Surely, it is a problem and we would discuss this case with the committee formed by the Punjab chief minister and plan to relocate the people living inside the colony so that the place can be conserved and the hidden structures can be revealed and also the damage from sewerage will also be controlled this way”, Zahid said.
WCLA Director Conservation and Planning Najam Saqib said that the colony was under the custody of the archaeology department and their staff resided in it but the authority would take up the conservation of the area around it in the future. The sewerage of the colony was a problem but the WCLA controlled it, he added.