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Orange Line could not be allowed to damage cultural heritage sites: SC

04 April, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court judge made it clear on Monday that while the court had no quibbles with the Orange Line Metro Train project, it could not allow any physical damage to cultural heritage sites located along its route.

“If you want to have a metro train, then do not endanger the heritage [sites],” observed Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, who is part of a five-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan.

“Nations that preserve their past have a future,” Justice Saeed observed, saying that the monuments needed to be preserved.

The bench also decided to hold day-to-day hearing on a set of four identical petitions, filed by the Punjab government, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), the Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMTA) and the National Engineering Services Pakistan (Nespak). The petitions challenge the Lahore High Court’s Aug 19 suspension of construction work 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, the Supreme Court’s Lahore registry, the St Andrews Presbyterian Church on Nabha Road and Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari’s shrine.

On Monday, a video documentary was shown by Nespak to persuade the court that no structural damage had been done to heritage sites during the construction of the mass transit system, nor would there be any visual impairment of the monuments.

Justice Ejaz Afzal observed that if there was no visual impairment of the heritage sites, there was no big issue. However, he maintained that the construction should not damage any of the monuments alongside the Orange Line.

Advocate Shahid Hamid, representing Nespak, told the court that the project did not endanger any cultural heritage site, claiming that not a single building was damaged.

The counsel also emphasised that there had to be a fine balance between public welfare and protecting the monuments from visual impairment.

When Justice Maqbool Baqir asked if there was any chance that vibrations from passing trains could affect these sites, the counsel assured the court that the project would be constantly monitored and referred to an environmental assessment study, which has already been submitted to the Supreme Court registry in Lahore.

The counsel argued that civil society groups had challenged the Orange Line project seven months after it was initiated.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan observed that the international standard was that if there was damage to a building, the company would have to pay.

At this, Advocate Hamid assured the court that if any damage was caused to any heritage site, it would be “reconstructed”.

The counsel emphasised that 148 countries of the world had underground mass transit systems, while a similar facility was also available in almost every city in India. But Lahore and Karachi were the only big cities where no such facility was available.

At this, Justice Saeed recalled that the London Underground was built in 1863.

The counsel explained that Orange Line project would not be “very heavy”, since only 27 trains with five carriages will run on the designated tracks, carrying 200 commuters in each carriage. He argued that an expert from the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore and engineering consultants TYPSA had given findings in favour of the project.

Justice Saeed emphasised that the court favoured the completion of the mass transit project, but warned that there should be no violation of the law.

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