LAHORE: Civil society organisations, political leaders and workers and Orange Line train affectees held on Friday a protest rally at GPO Chowk, showing unity among themselves and expressing resolve to fight tooth and nail against Rs165 billion project.
They demanded of the government to either change the project route or use tunnel technology, failing which the private land/property demarcated for acquisition would never be handed over to the government at any cost. Emotions were running high among the project affectees.
“We all are migrants and have been living in our houses since we arrived in Lahore from India in 1947. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had allotted us these houses (each measuring two to three marlas) at Maharaja Building,” Shakeela Bibi, an elderly woman, told Dawn.
Shakeela, a widow, said she would not surrender her property for a project that was making the people homeless and she didn’t need any sort of compensation.
Muhammad Waseem of Kapoorthala House criticised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for disrupting life of the people for a project that was of no importance.
“The PM and the CM must listen to us. The government officials are harassing us for getting possession of our houses. If the officials tried to enter our property for the Orange Line train, we will put up resistance,” he warned.
Affectees accuse govt of harassment for surrendering property; rally at GPO Chowk
Shakeel Ahmad of Parachute Colony alleged the government saved the house of provincial minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman by acquiring land/houses of the poor people for the project.
“It has been proved the government has changed the route of the train while passing it over the railway colony and installations. Since the house of the minister was in the way, the government changed the route and is now passing it over the houses of the poor residents of Parachute Colony,” he claimed.
Ahmad also alleged that LDA Director Muhammad Nauman was continuously visiting the colony and threatening its residents to either vacate the houses voluntarily or be ready for forced eviction.
Muhammad Javaid, the owner of a two-marla house in Jain Mandir locality, said he would not vacate his house until receipt of a handsome compensation from the government.
“They (government officials) continue visiting us and threatening us daily. But I just want to tell them to avoid teasing the poor. And if you try to snatch our land forcibly without giving a handsome compensation, you will have to face consequences,” he said.
Nasreen, Abida Waseem and Shabana were also among those resisting the land acquisition plan.
The protesters were carrying placards and banners inscribed with various messages like ‘Our history is not for sale; change the train route; use tunnel technology; first give compensation and then get land, etc”.
They chanted slogans against the government in general and the prime minister and the chief minister in particular for launching the huge project without thinking about its worst impact on the routine life of the public at large, particularly those who would be relocated due to it.
Talking to Dawn, Lahore Conservation Society Information Secretary Ijaz Anwar termed the project a political stunt and a campaign for the next general elections.
“It’s an open secret that why this project has been launched. Though the PML-N wants to win the next general elections by showing such projects, it doesn’t know how its projects (like Metro bus) have flopped,” he said.
He said several projects of the PML-N government, including the Metro bus, didn’t provide a solution to traffic-related issues in Lahore.
Quoting an example of London, he said, the entire subways system was constructed underground there about 150 years ago because they knew that it was the best way for such projects.
“But here we are constructing such schemes on the roads. I just want to tell the government that one day they will have to go underground after failure of the elevated projects,” he claimed.
Salima Hashmi termed the project a futile exercise in the provincial capital.
“How can they compromise Lahore’s heritage and routine and peaceful life of the people for a project that is of no importance? I think the rulers are getting mad,” she said.
Speaking to protesters, Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed criticised the rulers for spending ‘Rs200 billion’ on the project after getting loan on markup from China.
“Spend this money on health, education, clean drinking water and other basic public issues rather than wasting it on the useless projects. Please, don’t destroy Lahore’s identity, its heritage and values through such projects as the public doesn’t want them,” he said while addressing the rulers.
He said the PTI would raise the issue on the floor of the Punjab Assembly in the next session.
McLeod Road traders, Awami Workers Party leaders and various civil society activists also spoke.
The protesters blocked the GPO Chowk for traffic, forcing traffic police to keep the traffic run on one side of The Mall.
The situation caused the worst traffic congestion on The Mall and thoroughfares linking it from Anarkali, Lahore High Court, Lakshmi and other places.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2016