LAHORE: Civil society activists, individuals and groups on Monday protested against the current route of the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train Project which, according to them, directly flouts Section 22 of the Antiquities Act 1975 and Punjab Special Premises Preservation Ordinance 1985 by passing along historical and internationally recognised heritage sites -- Chauburji, General Post Office (GPO) and the Shalamar Gardens.

Participants representing various civic and civil rights organisations gathered at Chauburji under the banner of Lahore Bachao Tehreek (LBT) and chanted slogans against the government for compromising the city’s heritage sites besides depriving many people of their homes for launching the project and acquiring private property for it.

“Actually our protest is not against the government or its projects; we want change in the current route of the Orange Line that violates Section 22 of the Antiquities Act 1975 and Punjab Special Premises Preservation Ordinance 1985. Under these laws, no development plan or scheme or new construction on or within a distance of 200 feet of a protected immovable antiquity shall be undertaken or executed,” LBT chief Imrana Tiwana told Dawn while leading protesters.

She said although no demolition of any heritage site was in sight except a five-foot portion of the veranda of the GPO building, the problem was the close distance between the monuments and proposed track. The underground portion of the project would likely pass just along the GPO and dug up to 50 feet. It would consume five feet of the post office’s veranda, which was not permissible under the law, she claimed.

Says laws prohibit construction on or within 200ft of protected sites

“Vibration and environmental impact on these sites is also an issue,” she added.

She said the civil society had already informed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and local Pakistani authorities about these violations.

The protesters questioned why the government initiated projects that involved damage to heritage sites.

“Chauburji is a place where people, including classical singers, poets and writers, used to sit. Civilised nations don’t jeopardise sites that define their identity and we must follow such good practices,” Mazhar Tirmizi, a poet and civil rights activist, commented.

He said cultural assets, heritage, history evolved in centuries, adding the Punjab government must maintain, restore and protect them rather than damaging them or hindering their view in the name of development.

Carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans against the route as well as other demands, the participants walked around Chauburji roundabout and pledged to continue their protest if their demands were not fulfilled.

“We will not allow the government to end identity of Lahore through the Orange Line or other projects. The Metro Bus Project has already separated Lahore into two parts besides hindering view of the Lahore Fort, Minar-i-Pakistan, Badshahi Mosque,” deplored Lahore Conservation Society Information Secretary Prof Ajaz Anwar.

Representatives from Institute of Architects Pakistan, Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners, Union of International Architects, Pakistan Environmental Lawyers Association, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Worldwide Fund for Nature Pakistan, Pakistan Medical Association, Office of Conservation and Community Outreach, Pakistan Urban Resource Centre, Concerned Citizens of Pakistan, Lok Sujag, Subh-i-Nau, Shehri, Pakistan Sustainable Network, Chitarkar, Shirkatgah, Shajardost, Lahore Conservation Society and Civic Forum joined the protest.

Meanwhile a press release, titled ‘Save Identity, Culture and Heritage of Lahore’, was also issued by the LBT and other civil society organisations.

“We the citizens of Lahore appreciate the initiative of the Punjab government to provide rapid transit systems to the people of Lahore. However, the manner in which the orange train project has been launched, planned and is being executed, it presents serious legal, environmental, social and cultural issues that demand immediate attention,” the statement read.

The press release stated local communities were being displaced by the Orange Line without forewarning and with little or no provision of compensation. Communities at Jain Mandir, Kapurthala House, Punjab University Town-1 and many others were being affected due to this project. The project lacked transparency in fiscal and other matters, it quoted activists as saying.

“We hold our ancient city in trust not only for our future generations, but also for the world. We believe that a democratic government is answerable to the people when the projects are done for their welfare,” the release said.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2015

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