LAHORE - The government and civil society have locked horns in Lahore High Court over the case of transparency and advantages of China funded multi-million dollar project, Orange Line Metro Train.

“Orange Line project is first of its kind in country’s history which is purely for the public welfare while the government has tried its best to follow international standards to protect historical monuments,” Attorney General of Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf concluded his arguments in the Lahore High Court yesterday.

A division bench headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and comprising Justice Shahid Karim of the LHC was hearing the case against the mega project based on 35 civil miscellaneous petitions filed in the court.

The petitioners’ counsel, Azhar Siddique rebutted the arguments of the respondents saying that the public money was being wasted on useless project. He said the money allocated for health, education and other sectors was being shifted to Orange line project.

He further said that the environment of the city deteriorated, many people lost their lives and businesses while cultural landscape of the city reached on the verge of collapse. “The budget of Orange Line is equal to the budget of whole province,” he added.

Siddique told the court that the court order against construction on city’s heritage sites was not followed during the execution of this project. He also said that the Unesco and other international organization expressed serious reservations over the damage caused to historical monuments, particularly to Shalimar Gardens.

However, the Attorney General told the bench that the Orange line project was of public welfare. He termed it the ‘biggest project’ in the country’s history for which the government took heavy measures and made huge arrangements.

The AGP further said the advisory committee deeply looked into the matters of the project, especially environment and protection of historical monuments. It would continue its best efforts to look after the affairs of the project, he assured the court.

Punjab’s top law officer Shakeelur Rehman and other law officers were also present there in the courtroom.

The petitioners’ counsel was still arguing when the court deferred proceedings for today (Wednesday) as the AGP said he was going abroad for medical checkup.

On January 28, the LHC stayed project at eleven historical sites of the provincial metropolis. Civil Society and others had filed the petitions and argued that the project was threat to the environment and beauty of the city.

They maintained that it was not approved by the provincial legislative assembly while funds allocated for other projects were being shifted to this project.

They said heavy loan amount was being taken from the Chinese bank. They requested the court to set aside the project.

In another case, the LHC yesterday directed Punjab Chief Secretary to make testing laboratory of Environmental Protection Agency functional within three months in order to enforce pollution charge rules across the province.

During the hearing, Advocate Sheraz Zaka on behalf of petitioner argued that the fundamental rights of citizens were at stake as the increasing industrialisation was leading to averaging pollution levels. He said Lahore was becoming one of the most polluted cities in the world.

The counsel also provided details to the court about how Punjab environmental protection agency failed to perform its statutory obligations and enforce pollution charge rules and the federal government was flouting its international obligations under Paris Agreement 2015.

EPA Director General Dr Javed Iqbal submitted before the chief justice that it required at least one year time for testing laboratory to be functional.

At this, CJ Syed Mansoor Ali Shah directed that only three months time would be given to implement the environmental laws. Expressing his displeasure, the CJ asked how the government could be negligent from the implementation of environmental laws.