ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday warned the Punjab government not to touch any historical site in Lahore — including the British-era General Post Office (GPO) building — in developing the Orange Line Metro Train.

“Do not even dream of usurping any [part] of the GPO building,” observed Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, a member of the five-judge Supreme Court bench hearing challenges to the Lahore High Court’s stay order on the project.

Justice Saeed also asked the provincial government to assure the court, in writing, that no part of the GPO building would be used to build a stairway for an elevated train station, nor would any wall of the St Andrews Church be demolished and reconstructed.

Headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, the five-member bench also ordered the provincial government to: identify the extent of damage already caused to different heritage sites; and suggest remedial measures to address the concerns of civil society activists who were campaigning for the preservation and protection of historical sites.

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


Asma fears heritage sites may be de-listed if Orange Line project goes ahead as planned


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

The directions came in response to arguments by human rights activist Asma Jahangir, who — using pictures and diagrams — highlighted the neglected and dilapidated state of different heritage sites, and feared that these historical places may not sustain the impact of vibrations or other hazards that were bound to be generated during construction of pillars for the ambitious metro train project.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan wondered why the provincial government could not apportion a few million from the multi-billion rupee budget of the project for the restoration of heritage sites.

Nespak counsel Shahid Hamid, however, assured the court that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had allocated Rs100 million for the restoration of all historical buildings and that work to preserve the Mughal-era Chauburji monument had already begun.

Advocate Mustafa Ramday and the project’s chief engineer also assured the court that no path or veranda of the GPO office would be demolished following the high court’s restraining order.

In her presentation, Ms Jahangir referred to a number of sites of cultural value that would definitely be subject to visual impairment from the project, since the train track or its supporting pillars would — at certain points — pass within 200 metres of the heritage site.

This cut-off distance, she said, was considered by experts to be essential in order to reduce the impact of the vibrations from the metro train.

A pedestrian would not even be able to enjoy the ambience of the walls of the Shalimar Gardens because of the track’s pillars, she said, claiming that the Shalimar Gardens Hydraulic Tank, which provided water for the garden’s signature fountains, was a mere eight meters from the track.

Alluding to the absence of infrastructure around the Taj Mahal in the Indian city of Agra, she said it had been removed so it would not block the view of the magnificent tomb.

“[The developers] also planned to desecrate an old mosque inside the Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari shrine,” said claimed, insisting that the residents of Lahore were lucky to be living in one of the most beautiful cities of the world, which was full of archaeological sites that should be preserved, not defaced.

Ms Jahangir also wryly noted that the developers has chosen to dig a cut-and-cover (referring to the way underpasses are built) tunnel outside the Supreme Court Registry, which was not as important as the Shalimar Gardens in terms of historical value.

When an exasperated Justice Saeed observed that he had no words to express himself, Ms Jahangir sarcastically mused that Lahore had even reduced renowned poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib to mere underpasses.

She also expressed the fear that these heritage sites may lose their historical value and may end up being removed from the list of world heritage sites if the train project was constructed according to the design the developers had envisaged.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2017

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