LAHORE - Nearly 70 per cent construction work on the China-aided Orange Line Metro Train project has been completed, but a commission constituted months ago by the Lahore High Court to see whether its January 28 stay order is being implemented or not has yet to submit its report.

The commission is due to submit its report today when the court resumes hearing.

The court had stayed work on the mega project on the basis of environmental pollution that it might cause. The Environment Protection Agency had given various recommendations to the Punjab Transit Authority, but they are not being implemented. The court has asked the relevant official authorities to report on whether environmental laws are being followed during the construction.

During a survey conducted by The Nation yesterday, it was observed that construction work at eleven historical sites was not being done while at many other places it was being carried out, in clear violation of environmental laws and healthy safety measures.

From Chauburji to Lakhshmi Mansion, no appropriate signs are installed for the road users and no sheets/curtains or fences were fixed to control emissions of gasses, smoke and dust from the construction sites. Dust and smoke of machinery oil were seen at many places of construction work, which were creating problems for the residents and road users of nearby areas.

It was also observed that the most problematic areas in terms of environmental pollution was the area between Samanabad Chowk and Yateem Khana chowk, Scheme Morr, Lakhshmi Chowk and the area falling in front of University of Engineering and Technology to Shalamar Gardens.

The Environment Protection Agency issued an addendum (DD (EIA)/ EPA/F. 52 (EIA) 2015/ 783 dated May 9, 2016) giving approval for construction of Orange Line Project. The addendum states: “The proponent of the project (Mass Transit Authority) was bound to submit weekly Environmental Management Plan (EMP) compliance report to a committee comprising Director (ML &I), Director (EIA), and District Officer (Environment Lahore).”

“The committee was responsible for strict compliance of the project EMP through frequent visits and laboratory reports, and strict measure be taken for controlling fugitive emissions from concrete mixing plants by continuous monitoring of emissions and maintaining their log,” it reads.

However, during the survey, it was observed that no standard warning signs were placed at appropriate sites and no measures taken for the protection and awareness of road users. Around 15 to 20 labourers were working on the project near Lakhshmi Mansion but without standard safety measures.

According to EIA report, it was suggested that vehicle speed would not exceed 20km/hr to avoid dust generation, but practically there was no such system to control speed of the vehicles at all constructions sites.

Environment expert Rafeh Alam said that Orange Line project is the biggest project of the country’s history and there are many challenges in its execution. He said environment of the city had been destroyed as two previous projects of the city, including Metro Bus and Jail Road project, were built in violation of environmental laws.

However, Alam was reluctant to say anything about the current situation of the project. “I cannot say anything about the exiting Orange Line project but the same agency was conducting environment assessment that assessed the previous projects,” he said, adding that unfortunately, the agency could not come with any clear stance or action against those who violated environmental laws.

On the other hand, Environment Project Agency Director General Javed Iqbal said that environment laws were not being followed during construction of Orange Line Project as it was a huge project and the growing population had also caused problem in maintaining environmental laws.

He said EPA was not responsible if any person had died. According to him it was the responsibility of the proponent of the project to protect citizens. However, he said that they assured the other stake holders that they would play their due role for health and environment safety.

When asked during the survey about the lack of safety measures at many construction sites, Javed Iqbal replied that LDA officials were responsible for holding these fences and curtains but they always told district environment officer that fences and curtain were erected and displayed at construction sites.

About the steps being taken to preserve all five historical monuments from negative impact of environmental pollution, the Environment DG replied: “The Archaeology department is responsible for any damage to archaeological sites and not the EPA.” “EPA gives approval through a systematic way as it gives ads for public hearings in national dailies and then holds internal inquiries,” said Iqbal. According to first NOCs, the DG said, they used to hold environmental assessment after each month but now they had issued revised NOCs according to which environmental assessment would be held every week.

It is pertinent to mention that on Friday, Mr Javed Iqbal was termed “an ineligible officer” by the Lahore High Court for issuing revised NOCs for Orange Line, although the court had partially stayed work on the multibillion rupees project.

When contacted Managing Director of Punjab Mass Transit Authority Sibtain Fazal Haleem, he said there was no environmental threat to the citizens as well as to the heritage sites.

About radiation of the proposed train project near historical sites, he said that international standard have been maintained to control radiation near all these heritage sites. “International standard of vibration is 0.3 millimeters which is tantamount to ‘No vibration’,” Sibtain said, adding that they tried their best to control noise and vibration pollution according to international standards.

However, when asked how he would see the post-completion environmental impact of the project, he replied that still there was no planning about it. He said they would conduct “an operational environmental assessment” when the project was near completion in 2018.