LAHORE: A meeting of the heritage lovers from Lahore, which was convened by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, on Thursday urged the government to review its urban development plans including the metro train project that violated the laws devised to protect historic buildings and sites and the principles of conservation.
Adopting a resolution, the participants said they would make all possible efforts to resist any form of vandalism, announcing their first protest in the city from Chauburji on Monday afternoon.
They included conservationists, architects, academics, historians, ecologists and civil society activists including HRCP Secretary-General I.A. Rehman, celebrated architects Kamil Khan Mumtaz, Nayyar Ali Dada and Fauzia Qureshi, Lahore Conservation Society General Secretary Imrana Tiwana, former NCA principals Sajjad Kausur and Salima Hashmi, and Dilkash Lahore committee Vice-Chairman Anwar Nanna.
In the resolution, they took a dim view of the plans to run a train close to the Shalamar Gardens, a World Heritage site, in violation of the Antiquities Act that bars any construction within 200 yards of the monument.
The General Post Office, a protected building, was similarly threatened by the train project which had also been criticised by the Punjab University academic staff and the people living in Jain Mandir and the Kapurthala House residential settlements for posing grave threats to their rights as long-time settlers of the land occupied by them, the resolution said.
It said the meeting resolved to protest against other Lahore plans that interfered with the natural environment of the city, “which infringe the people’s rights to easement or make undue calls on them to change their usage of open spaces and pathways, create environmental hazards or interfere with the perspective of historical buildings.”
These plans included the Riverside Housing Colony project that threatened the source of livelihood of a large number of cultivators, thoughtless schemes to widen the canal road and building of a rapid transit roads for the convenience of few.
The meeting further resolved to support the organisations that were working to save Lahore’s heritage and appointed a five-person committee comprising Ms Imrana Tiwana and others to engage the federal and provincial authorities and approach all like-minded national and international organisations for the implementation of the decisions taken by it, the resolution concluded.
Earlier, in his key note address, Mr Kamil Khan Mumtaz said serious changes being made in the city posed a threat to its cultural heritage. There was no need for any metro train or surface, elevated or underground pathways, he said while presenting figures on “actual urban transport requirements.”
He said senseless development was being carried out in cities. This was wrong as cities merely offered tertiary or service sectors of growth. They did not produce anything but mounds of solid waste. No city could survive without a backing by its adjacent regions of elementary and secondary production.
He said projects like Lahore’s metro train were not just endangering Chauburji but they were actually endangering the world.
Mr I.A. Rehman said the HRCP was not opposed to facilities like the rapid travel but was not for the projects that were for the convenience of few, infringing upon people’s cultural rights. It could not allow vandalising of the landmarks like Chauburji and Shalamar Gardens. People should raise their voice against such actions for the protection of heritage which was their basic right.
Ms Imrana Tiwana said Lahore was in a state of emergency because of exploding and misguided development. The citizens were facing a frenzy of urbanisation and the irreversible destruction it could cause.
She said the metro train and bus projects were isolated steps. Development should have relevance to the city otherwise it would become its victim. For development one should consider that 80pc of Lahorites did not have clean drinking water and all its localities were facing industrial pollution.
She said the government had no right to damage Shalamar Gardens which was on the World Heritage List. The signal-free corridor was being made for the mere eight per cent car owning people. It was in fact increasing mileage which would cause a great deal of inconvenience to people.
Mr Nayyar Ali Dada said Lahore was being turned into Dubai which was the worst model of development. “Cities have bodies and souls and need to be treated in a special manner. The development is causing pollution and depleting ecology. It is faulty because people are not included in decision-making. The decisions are despotic and autocratic under the sham democracy where common man has nothing to do.”
Ms Salima Hashmi asked whether one should spend one’s meager income on basic needs or on moving rapidly from one corner of the city to another. “We need passages but we do not want to travel rapidly. We want to see things on our way like the Badshahi Mosque and the GPO,” she said.
Ms Fauzia Qureshi said the metro train’s aspects of loan and execution were not transparent and even government agencies like the GPO and archaeology department were objecting to it. “They are not competent to complete the project and are flaunting our money,” she said, indicating that the authorities concerned were avoiding the age-old tunnel technology for the underground portion of the project.
Mr Anwar Nanna said the government was deliberately destroying the heritage sites one by one. “We will go to the court of people to build pressure on it,” he said.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2015