LAHORE: A division bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday ordered the suspension of construction on the multi-billion dollar Orange Line Metro Train within 200 feet of 11 heritage sites.

The bench comprising Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and Justice Shahid Karim in today's hearing of a petition filed by civil society activist Kamil Khan Mumtaz set aside earlier No-Objection Certificates (NOC) for the project and all addendum NOCs.

"Consequently, respondents shall not carry out any construction within distance of 200 feet of protected immovable antiquity and special premises," Justice Sheikh said in his comments today.

In an earlier hearing, the bench had stayed construction work on the project within a 200-foot radius of the 11 heritage sites which include Shalamar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu ka Awa, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s Tomb, Lakshmi Building, General Post Office, Aiwan-i-Auqaf, Supreme Court’s Lahore registry building, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church at Nabha Road and Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari’s Shrine.

Despite the stay order, a two-member commission constituted by the LHC found violations at five of the 11 heritage sites in June where construction on the Orange Line Metro Train had been stopped.

The heritage sites are protected under the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance, 1985 and Antiquity Act, 1975.

The petitioners claim the government, in order to make the project successful, had been acquiring land from citizens by 'hook or by crook', adding that it had for the sake of "cheap publicity" started a "white elephant" project at the cost of the lives and properties of vulnerable and marginalised people in Lahore.

The petitioners said that the Rs365bn project has not been approved by the Punjab Assembly, and that it threatens the heritage of Lahore as 26 historical and protected monuments will be affected by the project.

The bench today ordered the director general archaeology to "engage independent consultants consisting of a panel of experts of international status, preferably in consultation with Unesco to carry out fresh independent studies regarding protected immovable antiquities and special premises".

The Unesco’s World Heritage Committee had earlier urged the Punjab government to immediately suspend any further work on the Orange Line Metro Train along Shalamar Gardens and identify an alternative location for this section of the project.

The WHC is concerned about the possible environmental impacts on the Shalamar Gardens due to the track being laid out for the train.

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