LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Thursday scrapped the project envisaging an elevated expressway from Gulberg to Motorway-II after the Punjab government failed to justify the urgency being shown in acquiring people’s properties for it.

Allowing hundreds of petitions filed against the project, a full bench also set aside all notifications issued by the government under Land Acquisition Act 1894 as there was no urgency.

The bench ruled there was no urgency for the project for which Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval was also not granted by the Environment Protection Department before starting the construction work.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah headed the full bench along with Justice Aminuddin Khan and Justice Shams Mahmood Mirza. Announcing a short order, Justice Shah observed that the court would issue guidelines for the government to follow before launching a development project.

The petitioners had submitted that the government imposed an emergency like situation and started acquisition of their land under Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act by demolishing their house to execute over Rs50 billion expressway project. They said the government had not conveyed them the reasons behind this urgency. They asked the court to set aside the project and the land acquisition.

Rules there is no urgency for project

Some petitions filed in public interest also questioned violation of rules in expressway construction. It was pointed out that the government had not carried out mandatory EIA survey.

Some other petitioners objected to the huge public money being spent on the project, saying the government totally neglected education and health sectors which could be improved with the same amount. During the previous hearings, the bench had observed that the education and health sectors should be on priority list of the government instead of development projects.

Justice Shah had also asked the government’s counsel whether heaven would fall or people would stop breathing if the project was not completed.

In this case, the LDA stated that the construction of the elevated expressway was a public welfare project. It said the project was a mandate of executive and the high court should not take judicial review of the matter. The authority stated that affectees of the project had appropriate forums for legal remedy under Punjab Land Acquisition Act. It said cases relating to compensation against acquisition of land could be taken up with civil courts.

The bench had asked the LDA to establish urgency being shown by the government in the project. However, the authority could not come up with convincing ground for acquiring land on the pretext of urgency.

Some senior lawyers also assisted the bench as amicus curies (friends of court) and pointed out many grave violations of rules on part of the government with regard to the project.

Stay order: The Lahore High Court on Thursday stayed felling of trees for a project of “signal-free corridor” from Qartaba Chowk to Liberty Chowk.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah issued the restraining order to the Punjab government on a public interest petition filed by a lawyer.

Advocate Fahad Malik argued that the government started chopping off trees for the signal-free corridor ignoring environmental impact. He said the Lahore Development Authority, the execution agency, did not obtain a mandatory NOC from the Environment Protection Department (EPD).

He further said the government also ignored a survey of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) before launching the project worth billions.

The petitioner prayed to the court to stop the government from felling the trees and ask it to fulfill all perquisites before starting the project.

Justice Shah stayed the felling of trees and sought a reply from the government by March 6.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2015

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