LAHORE - The Unesco’s World Heritage Committee on Saturday endorsed amendments proposed by WHC Committee Members, asking Pakistan to ensure protection of historical monuments alongside Orange Line Metro Train Project in Lahore.

The Committee, however, lauded the role of Pakistan for taking necessary measures for conversation of the historical monuments alongside China-funded metro train project.

A delegation headed by Punjab Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad and other members, including Punjab Advocate General Shakilur Rehman Khan, Punjab Mass Transit Authority Managing Director Sibtain Fazal Halim, and Archaeology lawyer and OMLT Strategic Counsel Khurram Chughtai, participated in 41st session of the World Heritage Committee at World Heritage Centre at Krakow, Poland.

The committee, however, asked Pakistan to invite Reactive Monitoring Mission after a decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is announced.

Earlier, the committee expressed its concerns for not inviting Reactive Monitoring Committee to visit the property. However, the state representative said that Reactive Monitoring Committee was not invited due to legal constraints as the matter was sub judice before the Supreme Court and decision would be announced shortly.

The committee urged Pakistan to set out the precise and detailed nature of the potential impacts of the OLMTP on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property and come up with updated report on state of conversation of historical monuments falling alongside of the project on its 42nd sessions to be held in February 2018.

Presenting its stance, the government said Fort and Shalimar Gardens located in Lahore are Unesco World Heritage Sites since 1981. It stated that Orange Metro Train is a major mass transit project, which the government has undertaken to provide affordable and efficient public transport to over 10 million people of Lahore.

The World Heritage Centre expressed certain concerns about the possible Heritage impacts on the Shalimar Gardens (the Property) due to the execution of Orange Line project.

The government’s representative ensured the committee that Orange Line would not damage Shalimar Gardens in any way. Extra care has been undertaken in its design and as well as in its construction and engineering plans to ensure fool proof protection and conservation of the Unesco sites, he said.

He also presented report on measures and features of the project to be ensured for conservation of the sites. He said in order to protect the property and its integrity, special curve has been given to the train track by creating a maximum possible distance of 41.1 meters (135 feet) from the main entrance of the Shalimar Gardens. To achieve this distance, the government had to acquire 12 Kanals of extra land.

Any further change in the alignment of the train is impossible due to serious social consequences of dislocation of large number of people and technical constraints, he added.

According to the government representative, change in the planned alignment for creating this special curve may be seen in the alignment plan.

The report submitted before the committee said that due to 12 meter high rail elevated rack, the view of the Property would not be blocked. The vibrations of the metro trains would be 0.3 mm/sec, which is one tenth of the German standard of 3 mm/sec, as stated by the technical experts.

It stated that the air and noise pollution caused by existing vehicular traffic moving in front of the Property would considerably be reduced after operation of the Orange Line Metro Train Project.

The government further stated that a detailed State of Conservation (SOC) Report had already been furnished to the WHC. It said Visual Impact Study is at final stages of completion and would be furnished to the WHC shortly.

Inviting the Reactive Monitoring Mission to Lahore was delayed unfortunately due to legal reasons, it stated.

It also said that in interest of legal propriety, as soon as Supreme Court renders its judgment in this case, it would immediately inform WHC and invite the Reactive Monitoring Mission to visit at their convenience.

“We, therefore, specifically request your valuable support at the WHC meeting for opposing any attempt to place the Property on the list of “World Heritage in Danger”, for opposing any call for suspending work on any segment of the Orange Line or changing its alignment, for calling for continued constructive engagement to ensure that any issues of concern are resolved through mutual dialogue, rather than a resort to any punitive approach and for allowing further time to Pakistan for implementing the decisions taken at Istanbul,” said the delegation.

However, Imrana Tiwana, the member of the Civil society who was also present there at the session, opposed the government’s arguments saying that the project was causing serious threat to the historical monuments in Lahore besides environmental threat.

The SC had reserved the judgment on the appeal moved by the government against decision of the Lahore High Court in which the government was barred from building the project within 200 feet radius of eleven historical monuments in Lahore. Civil Society and others had challenged construction of the project by calling it threat to the beauty, culture and environment of Lahore.

FIDA HUSSNAIN