It is amazing that Lahore, the city with a thousand monuments dating back to half a millennium could be knocked off its ‘historical’ perch by a mere urban train project. It is, however, true that a number of historical sites could be on the verge of destruction because of the ongoing 27.1 km Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) Project.
A number of experts have raised concerns about the project that it would be a huge blow to the heritage and environment of the city while thousands of people are likely to be displaced because of the project.
The OLMT track will start from Ali Town, passing through Thokar Niaz Baig, Bund Road, Chauburji, Anarkali, Lakshmi Chowk, Railway Station, University of Engineering and Technology, Shalimar Gardens, Islam Park and will terminate at Dera Gujran.
According to heritage experts, at least 26 historical and protected monuments, including Shalamar Gardens, General Post Office, Supreme Court-Lahore Registry, Lahore High Court, Mauj Darya Shrine and Chauburji will be affected by the project.
Considering the threat of OLMT to the heritage, civil society organisations filed a writ petition on December 16, 2015 challenging the construction of the project so close to a number of historical sites. The court issued notices to Punjab government, Planning and Development Commission, Departments of Environment and Archeology and Nespak.
A Divisional Bench of the Lahore High Court comprising Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and Justice Shahid Jamil granted a stay order against the construction of Orange Line Metro Train Project, and clearly stated that no construction can be done within a 200-feet radius of any historical place, effectively stopping construction at eleven points.
But unfortunately, the government is not obeying the court’s orders.
Barrister Taimoor Mateen Khan says that the touchstone upon which the main argument of the petitioners’ against the government agencies hinges upon is the very fact that the means adopted to ensure the construction work have without doubt been far from democratic and do not follow the normal law making process, or satisfy the legislative filters placed in our political and judicial system. Moreover, there are clear legislative measures in place to avoid just such an excess by the government namely the Antiquities Act 1975 and the Punjab Special Premises (Prevention) Ordinance, 1985.
He adds that despite a Prohibitory Injunctive Order, directing the government to put a stop to the construction work, the government through the Lahore Development Authority is continuously violating the January 29 order of the Lahore High Court.
“Moreover, the jurisdiction in relation to the development works cannot be identified. After the amendments passed in the 2013 in the Lahore Development Authority Act, 1975 it has become obscure as to who shall be responsible for the development works,” Khan said.
Whether it is the Lahore Development Authority or the Town Municipal Administration, the provincial government has to face the challenge of playing its constitutional role.
DESTROYING IS THE NEW PROTECTING:
Urban development specialist Imrana Tiwana told Pakistan Today that urban development interventions with an eye on sustainable best practices in the world, are based on a visionary and realistic plan that focuses on the needs of the people.
“Public transport is an imperative in a mega city like Lahore. However the OLMT project overlooks the mobility needs of 98% of the population of the city while spending over $3 billion in public money,” Tiwana said.
“It not only violates international and local laws but will irreversibly destroy the heritage, spirit and communities of Lahore,” she said.
Tiwana said that the project might end up dividing and destroying neighborhoods that form the foundation of this great city.
“A train running through the city at a height of 35 feet will create serious and uncontrollable security issues and cause severe visual, noise, and particulate pollution endangering the health of millions of residents, children and senior citizens,” she said. Lahore is now a sad example of the vanishing city syndrome, she added.
UNESCO through its offices of the World Heritage Convention in Paris has taken strict note of the blatant disregard for world heritage sites.
Speaking about the environmental impact of the OLMT project Tiwana said that the environment would be devastated and temperatures would soar.
“More concrete, electric stations and exhausts will add to Lahore s woes as the most polluted city in Pakistan,” she said. “It is imperative that the development is steered towards prioritising the real needs of the people first.”
Once this is done and the city has a strong fleet of linked commuter bus networks, clean drinking water and sewerage facilities for the people who are barely able to fulfill basic human needs, then we can start talking about large urban train projects, she said.
“Surely the time for OLMT is not now. Good governance that respects and values the needs of the people should be put in place and sustainability made the core of all current and future development initiatives,” she said.
PROTECTING IS THE NEW PROTECTING:
LDA Chief Engineer Israr Saeed told Pakistan Today that they are, in fact, preserving and securing the monuments and not, as is being portrayed in the media, destroying or damaging them.
“We have given a bend to the right to avoid any damage to Chauburji. At this location, we have created a distance of around 60 to 70 feet between the track and the monument to maintain its view,” he said, adding that while some of the Chauburji quarters would have to be relocated, the historical monument will maintain both its integrity and view.
Similarly, due to the other bend, the TMA office, Waterworks office and various buildings would have to be moved to a different location but it would maintain clear view of the Shalamar Gardens. He said that only the boundary wall of the GPO would be taken down for the underground portion of the metro train, but that too would be re-constructed immediately after.
“There will be no damage to the GPO building at all,” he clarified.
THE NIGHTMARE PROJECT:
Agreeing with Tiwana, human rights activist Neelam Hussain told Pakistan Today that the need for an efficient and effective mass transport system for Lahore was real. But it must be developed with foresight, proper management systems and due consideration to all types of users from cars to cyclist to pedestrians. She stressed the need to utilise existing roads and invest in buses and footpaths.
“A mass transit system effectively integrated with the existing transport system must be developed in the long term keeping in mind the cost as well as the character of the city,” Neelam said.
Speaking about the impact of OLMT on human lives she added, “The current design of the Orange Line Metro Train will reconfigure the city for the worse. The nation will have to bear the cost of this project including human displacement, loss of livelihood, healthcare problems and loss of heritage for a lot longer than is envisioned in the loan repayment plan.”
More importantly, she said, the train project will leave the larger transport issues of Lahore unresolved and a large majority of the population un-serviced.
Neelam said that she was equally outraged by the nonchalance with which the government was violating its own rules vis a vis the Heritage Act, laws pertaining to listed sites and the Land Acquisition Act. Not only is the cultural ethos of the city being destroyed, a rich heritage is also under threat, she said.
“Our people’s identities are shaped by the city’s landscape, the heritage that links us to our past and gives us a sense of continuity. We will lose all this with the havoc created by the train,” Neelam said.
“I am also horrified by the bad aesthetic choices and the ignorance of the government functionaries, especially the Lahore Development Authority, which thinks that they can replace a hundred year old tree like a pipal or a neem and replace it with a date palm, even as they intersperse the city with steel monstrosities and say there will be no environmental damage,” she said.
Neelam asked how the rendering of thousands people from Lahore’s poor communities was not a ruthless land grab in the name of the train? She said that this would create a large body of internally displaced people with only promises of recompense.
“Refugees are usually the result of war – how can the government justify giving refugee status to the very people for whose well-being it is responsible? How will it deal with joblessness and increased poverty that will result from the metro train project? What will it have to say for itself when it drives our young people to crime or into the lap of the Taliban?” she said, and wondered if “the government is so complacent, so deaf and blind in the isolated splendor of its luxurious estates that only its whims matter and what happens to the people and the city is a matter of no consequence”.