LAHORE: Civil society organisations, activists and those whose land is being acquired for the Orange Line Metro Train project jointly staged a demonstration at Charing Cross against the Punjab government for continuing construction work, ignoring their demands of protecting heritage sites and saving many from relocation.
They warned the government to either stop work on the project immediately or be ready to face massive protests.
The civil society along with the people of Lahore have been protesting under the banner of Lahore Bachao Tehreek and the Lahore Conservation Society for several days in a bid to press the government to change proposed route of the project, use tunnel technology and avoid possible damage to various heritage sites and acquisition of land in the densely populated Jain Mandir, Kapoorthala House and Parachute Colony.
A few days ago, the government had tried to take the civil society on board about the project at the Chief Minister Secretariat, but both parties stuck to their stances, pledging to continue discussions in this regard in the future.
Carrying placards and banners, protesters shouted slogans against the government and called the project destructive for both the people and heritage of the city.
“We are surprised the government is insisting, arguing and justifying an unviable plan unnecessarily despite the fact that it knows that it will change the face of Lahore, a city recognised in the world for its history of 4,000 years,” Kamil Mumtaz Khan, a heritage and urban expert, said while speaking to the participants on the occasion.
He said although the government knew about existence of a huge population, their businesses and many heritage and historical sites in these localities, it did not consider reviewing its plan to change the route.
The participants questioned why the government wanted to execute a project that would disrupt routine life of many residents.
“We ask Mian Sahiban what is the need for this project? Is it a bid to win the next general elections? And if so, we will never allow the government to construct metro train over our houses and win elections,” Usman, a resident of Shalamar, said.
He warned the government if it did not change its plan, the residents would not vote for the PML-N in the future.
“We request you to change the metro train route, avoid land acquisition and save heritage. We also request you to spend money on health, education and eradicating unemployment.”
Tehseen Ahmad of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-Pakistan) said the civil society would never allow the government to construct Orange Line at the cost of heritage sites and routine business and life of poor people.
“Now everyone knows the project is being built in violation of laws. But we are united and will never let this happen,” he warned, requesting the participants to continue their struggle against the project.
Imrana Tiwana of the Lahore Bachao Tehreek and Lahore Conservation Society urged the government to pay attention to mobility of pedestrians, cyclists and common people.
“We are not against the development project, as we just want to put the government on a right direction,” she added.
She said the ongoing protests had raised voice of Lahore internationally.
“Now other countries have even started criticising the Punjab government’s plan of metro train, calling it against heritage conservation and public,” she claimed.
“Under the Constitution, every citizen has a right to have clean drinking water, education, health etc. So please give us these things first, rather than relocating citizens and damaging the heritage sites first.”
Later, the protesters walked towards the Punjab Assembly gate where they shouted slogans against the government. They finally gathered in the middle of the road, blocking traffic on The Mall.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2015