LAHORE: The Lahore High Court stayed on Thursday the construction work of Orange Line Metro Train in the 200-metre radius of 11 heritage sites, protected under the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance, 1985 and Antiquity Act, 1975.

The sites include: Shalamar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu ka Awa, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s tomb, Lakhshmi Building, General Post Office, Aiwan-i-Auqaf, Supreme Court’s Lahore registry building, St Andrews Presbyterian Church on Nabha Road and Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari Shrine.

A division bench consisting of Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and Justice Shahid Karim issued the stay order in a petition by civil society activists IA Rehman, Kamil Khan Mumtaz and Neelum Hussain.

As the bench resumed hearing, petitioners’ counsel Azhar Siddique argued the Punjab government started construction on the metro train project in September 2015 whereas the loan agreement with a Chinese bank became effective in January 2016. The development proved that the government had not got loan from the Chinese bank but started work with public money.

Punjab government’s counsel Khwaja Haris failed to come up with a satisfactory answer. The court also appeared to be dissatisfied with government’s response to queries about the measures taken for the protection of the heritage sites and reasons given by the department concerned while issuing no-objection certificate (NOC) for the project.

Advocate Siddique said 26 casualties had been reported on the project sites. He said the government had transferred a director of the archeology department in order to get an NOC for the project. He argued that the government could not present in the court any solid reason in writing behind the project.

He added the project was initiated without any planning as network of electricity, water and gas lines were not shifted to other proper places.

He said the unavailability of alternative routes and traffic mess had become an order of the day. Even ambulances could be seen stuck for hours in traffic jam, he added.

Before rising, the bench issued stay order against construction work of the metro train project within 200-metre radius of the 11 heritages sites and adjourned hearing till February 4.

Petitioners say that Rs365 billion project of the metro train has not been approved by the Punjab Assembly and it puts the heritage of Lahore city on stake as 26 historical and protected monuments are going to lose their significance. They say the government is utilising funds allocated for other sectors like education and health on the project of the train. Unesco also opposed the project for being a serious threat for environment and other reasons.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2016

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