ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court judge observed on Tuesday that any pronouncement by the court would set a precedent that would be remembered for centuries.

“Our pronouncement will be a law and will [remain] for centuries,” observed Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, who heads a five-judge larger bench hearing the Orange Line Metro Train case.

Though Justice Khan did not specify whether he was referring to the verdict in the Orange Line case or the anxiously awaited judgement in the Panama Papers case, legal experts believe the observation can be read either way.

Before the observation, one of the counsel in the Orange Line case had mentioned the Panamagate case in his concluding notes.

Justice Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan were also part of the five-member larger bench that heard the Panamagate case.

The bench is hearing identical petitions filed by the Punjab government, Lahore Development Authority (LDA), Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMTA) and Nespak, challenging the Lahore High Court’s suspension of construction work on the Orange Line project within 200 feet of 11 heritage sites.

The order came on a petition filed by architect and civil society activist Kamil Khan Mumtaz.

The heritage sites include Shalimar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu ka Awa, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s Tomb, Lakshmi Building, General Post Office, Aiwan-i-Auqaf, Supreme Court’s Lahore registry, St Andrews Presbyterian Church on Nabha Road and Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari’s shrine.

Building underground track to avoid heritage sites is impractical, apex court observes

On Tuesday, Advocate Khawaja Ahmed Hosain — who represents human rights activist I.A. Rehman — reminded the Supreme Court that Justice Asif Saeed Khosa heading the Panamagate bench had observed that the court’s judgement would be one that people would look back on after 20 years, referring to how just and fair the judgement would be.

The counsel then hastened to add that the apex court should also hand down a similar verdict in the Orange Line — one that could be relied upon for a long time. He contended that the Panama Papers case revolved around Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, whereas a decision in the Orange Line case would affect the entire nation.

But Justice Saeed disagreed with the counsel’s comparison, saying that the court was well aware of the ramifications of a judgement that allowed heritage sites to be harmed in the process of developing the mass transit project.

“This is the cross and the burden we are carrying on our shoulders,” Justice Saeed observed.

“Both the courts and the respondents in the case are on the same page, since the purpose is to protect and preserve historical sites,” Justice Khan said, adding these heritage was ours too, but public money was at stake, which could not be allowed to be squandered.

Khawaja Hosain argued that his client was not against the mass transit project, rather their sole purpose was to protect the heritage sites in Lahore, which could only be preserved by building underground portions of the Orange Line in areas around the heritage sites, even through Nespak rejected the idea since it would cost an additional $400 million.

He regretted that the petitioners had failed to furnish any material to show that no harm would come to the heritage sites, adding that had any private sector firm been engaged to develop the project, they would not have been accorded the same treatment as the current developers.

The counsel stressed that the visual impairment this project would cause to the cultural sites at the street-level should make one’s heart skip a beat. However, he noted, Orange Line passengers would enjoy an excellent view of the sites from the elevated train.

But Justice Saeed observed that digging 20 metres underground would mean a rollercoaster for a train that would have to descend from an elevated track to go underground, something that did not seem practical.

Later, Nespak’s lawyer Shahid Hamid cited a study by M.V. Asia Consultants, carried out in 2007, which suggested an elevated track, saying that otherwise, land acquisition costs would be far greater.

Human rights activist Asma Jahangir, appearing on behalf of civil society activists, is expected to commence her arguments from today (Wednesday).

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2017


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