LAHORE - The Punjab government has stepped up pace of work on Orange Line Metro Train Project with the determination to complete the Rs160 billion project before the next elections, due to be held in August next year.

However, uncertainity is prevailing as no work is going on eleven heritage sites comes en route of project, as construction work was stayed by the Lahore High Court.

On Wednesday, Steering Committee for Lahore Orange Line Chairman Khawaja Ahmad Haassan said in a weekly review meeting that 72 per cent of the civil work on OLMT has so far been completed at cost of Rs36 billion, including construction of a bridge for passing trains on Lahore Ring Road near Quaid-e-Azam interchange, close to the under-construction depot.

He informed that laying of 2km-long track for coaches parking has been completed at depot near Dera Gujjran as manufacturing of trains was in progress in China.

Seven sets of trains, each comprising of five cars, will be ready by the mid of next month for shipment to Pakistan. Five sets of train have already been prepared  or Lahore Orange Line Metro Train, which will operate at a commercial speed of 35 kilo meters per hours for the benefit of more than 2,45,000 passengers daily.

The meeting was informed that progress on civil work on package-I from Dera Gujjaran, GTRoad to Chouburji was 85.7 per cent, on package-II from Choburji to Ali Town was 53.0 per cent, on Depot near Dera Gujran was 77.0 per cent while on Stabling Yard near Ali Town it was 73.5 per cent.

The meeting was further told that grey structure of all the 11 elevated stations along Package-I and five stations along Package-II of the project has been handed over to CR-NORINCO for electrical and mechanical works. Grey structure of another five stations will be handed over to Chinese contractor for this purpose by the end of current month while the remaining three stations will be handed over by the 14th of August.

Hassan had directed in the last progress review committee that two elevated stations, situated at Islam Park and Salamat Pura, might be completed in every respect by finishing all civil, electrical and mechanical works, by the 31st of July so that these structures could be used as ‘models’ for completing other stations of the project. Till date both stations are not finished yet.

On the other hand, critics of the Punjab government say completion of Orange Line Metro Project before next general elections is a real challenge for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The 27 km project stretches from Ali Town to Dera Gujjran. Labourers working at Chowk Yatim Khana elevated station were of the view that it would only take five months to complete if the construction work would continue at this pace. “In case of any other scenario, the project is likely to take nearly 10 months.”

“We are present here. We work here. We know the real situation as we fulfill our task daily and submit reports to our supervisors. The pace of work has gained momentum but there is 50 per cent work yet to be completed on these elevated stations,” two of labourers, who wished not to be named, told The Nation.

At present, according to a survey, the construction work at all the 11 elevated stations is continued and nearing 50pc completion. However, no construction work is going on near heritage sites.

Environment activist Maryam Hussain said that since the inception of OLMT, the civil society has been raising serious questions on its design and affects on public. “Punjab Government always claims that they are completing the project with pace but the real situation is quite contrary to that. The government is bound to follow the verdict of Lahore High Court and no construction work should be done near heritage sties,” she added.

“If they are going to contest the next elections on Orange Line Metro Train then this would not be good for 20 million population of Lahore that deserves modern transportation system but the government is trying to save their nose by completing such expensive transportation system at any cost,” Maryam told The Nation.

She thinks the government can sill revamp the whole design or at least considers the ‘public review’ to cater the civil society concerns on OLMT.

Other than the development work, a serious challenge for the Punjab government is to satisfy the Unesco reactive monitoring mission on the safety condition of International Heritage Site Shalimar Gardens. Civil society accused the provincial government of misleading the UN body at the 41st World Heritage Committee meeting held in Krakow (Poland) on Orange Line Metro Project effects on Unesco-protected Shalimar Gardens.

The controversy stirred when civil society representatives showed a letter of World Heritage Centre Director Mechtild Rossler which she wrote to human rights and environment activists in Pakistan stated that there was no such thing that Unesco endorsed the state party.

FAIZAN ALI WARRAICH