WEB DESK: In momentous decision on petitions filed by civil society members a division bench of the Lahore High Court has stopped construction on the extremely controversial 1.6 billion Lahore Orange Line Metro Train project within a radius of 200 feet of heritage sites protected under the antiquities and special buildings laws.
As many as 11 heritage sites affected by the project include the Mughal era Shalimar Gardens (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Chauburji, Princess Zaibunnisa’s Tomb, and structures like the Lakshami Building, General Post Office, Supreme Court Lahore Registry, the Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari Shrine and the Nabha Road Presbyterian Church.
For a while, civil society activists had been trying to persuade the Punjab government to change its plans so as to save the historical sites and also prevent environmental damage the felling of hundreds of trees along the train route entailed. But to no avail.
Sadly, when it comes to government’s own interests the relevant rules count for nothing. The Director General of the Archeology Department issued no objection certificates (NOCs) without a care for preserving the city’s historical and cultural heritage, permitting heavy construction within a few feet (7 feet from the Lakshami Building) of protected monuments, in some instances even tearing down of boundary walls; and in the case of historical sites such as the Shalimar Gardens within only 33 feet, and Chauburji 39 feet. The court found that all the NOCs were issued without lawful authority, pointing out that the discretion vested with the DG to give permission under Section 22 of the Antiquity Act, 1975 “is not unfettered, unbridled and not be exercised to frustrate the purpose of the Act of preserving and protecting [a] heritage site.”
It goes without saying that these structures are priceless national heritage that belongs not only the present generation but those to come. No one has the right to harm them. Their preservations ought to have been the paramount concern of the Punjab Chief Minister who has invested so much – at the cost of alienating residents of the province’s less developed areas – in various beautification schemes for Lahore. In its existing form, the project was to change the city’s character, damaging so many sites that make Lahore a historical city.
The urge to achieve immediate results with an eye on the next general elections seems to have overtaken every other consideration. The obvious way to construct this mass transit train system was to build it underground, as is the practice in most of the developed world’s large cities. That would have taken much longer; still, the PML-N leader could take credit for starting something that would provide the public with an efficient transportation system without harming the city’s famous monument.
Sad as it is, the government still seems to be intent on pursing its plans as the Punjab Advocate General’s office said it would challenge the LHC decision in the Supreme Court. Good sense suggests it should implement the LHC’s directions to engage an independent panel of experts of international standing, preferably in consultation with UNESCO, to carry out a fresh study of the protected antiquities and special premises, and also frame rules regarding discretion of competent authorities to deal with such cases in the future.
Source: Business Recorder