ISLAMABAD -  The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Punjab government authorities to identify damage caused to heritage buildings for various reasons and suggest remedial measures for their protection.

Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, heading a five-judge bench, said there should be some solution for the damage to the historical buildings. The bench took NESPAK, Lahore Development Authority, Punjab Transit Authority and the Punjab government appeals against the Lahore High Court verdict on the Orange Line project. The LHC had set aside the NOC issued by the Archaeology Department and ordered to stop work on the project.

Justice Ejaz asked Asma Jehangir, “If you ask us to give judgment on the basis of the reports, then we would be handicapped as neither we nor you are technical or archaeology experts.” He said they had asked both the parties to give the name of experts. The civil society proposed the name of Prof Robin Cunningham, an archaeological expert, while the Punjab authorities suggested the name of TYPSA, which has expertise in engineering. Prof Cunningham in his report had mentioned the deficiencies but did not provide measures, the judge added.

Justice Maqbool Baqir said there are missing links, deficiency and lack of technical data. He questioned whether the NESPAK report is deficient. Whether the model selected by the Punjab government authorities is the correct model and the data provided is correct.

Asma Jehangir, represented Kamil Khan Mumtaz, an architecture, on projector shown the pictures of the historical buildings, which are affected by the project. She contended that the track of the metro train would pass through the GPO, Lahore. However, chief engineer, present in the courtroom, denied and said the demolition was never part of the plan.

He explained that in the blueprint of the project it was planned, but when the Lahore High Court stopped them then they changed it and now the train track is on other side of the road. Mustafa Ramaday, the counsel, also endorsed the version of the chief engineer.

Upon that Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed asked the engineer to give in writing and also affix his thumb impression on the statement that no part of GPO would be damaged. Shahid Hamid, the counsel for NESPAK, said they would give a written undertaking.

Asma informed that the Director General Archaeology, who had given conditional permission, was posted out and the new DG gave complete approval. She objected to the way the NOC was granted. She argued that the authorities started work on the project, but how they expected later on the NOC would be issued. She told that the Pamela Rogers report came at a later stage when the Punjab authorities had already started their work on the metro train project. Justice Ijazul Ahsan said therefore they observed to discard the earlier reports and sought the fresh report.

She said they don’t have objection that the government is constructing motorways and metro train but the government should keep the balance between roads and other issues, adding the government should also take steps for the upkeep of the dilapidated heritage. She said it is outrageous to give contract in violation of the law.

Asma said in the law 200-foot distance between the historical sites and the construction works was mentioned because the UNESCO had conducted a study that in 200-foot distance the vibration impact remains minimum. She said in India the distance is more than 200 ft and they have removed encroachments around Taj Mehal.

She said when there is a law then the Punjab authorities should have not considered construction work within 200 ft. The former SCBA president told that the elevated station and the track near Gulabi Bagh would impair its visibility. However, Justice Ijaz observed that the train track is in the middle of roads.

Asma dispelled the impression that the civil society woke up late. She said they gave chance to the Punjab authorities to avoid the damage to the historical buildings, but when they did not pay heed to their demands then they approached the Lahore High Court.

The hearing is adjourned until today.

 

 

TERENCE J SIGAMONY