LAHORE – The Punjab government won’t defend the Orange Line Metro Project in the Lahore High Court on Monday in legal gamble that could bring the project to halt, officials have revealed.

The challenge due to be heard in court on Monday claims that the $1.6 billion signature construction project will destroy Lahore’s best loved heritage buildings. Last week the judge hearing the application for stay order against the construction issued notices to the government to submit its defence. The Nation understands the government will not present a submission, running the risk that the bench could order an immediate halt to the work.

Campaigners are angry at the potential damage to historic buildings like the colonial-era General Post Office and several Christian churches.

Government’s lawyers said they had not been given any documentation or instruction on how they should defend the case. “The project is illegal as public money is involved in it but the government couldn’t get it approved from assembly,” said Azhar Siddique, a lawyer. “If the government does not bring submission, we will ask for immediate stay order to stop construction of the project.”

There is growing opposition to the showcase project from shopkeepers, traders, university teachers and residents in neighbourhoods where homes will be destroyed to make way for the construction. There have been allegations that the Metro has been re-routed to poorer areas to avoid destroying houses owned by wealthy and influential politicians.

Cecil and Iris Chaudhry foundation and Judicial Activism Panel (JAP), Lahore Bacahao Tehreek and some members of the civil society including Kamil Khan Mumtaz, I.A. Rehman and Neelum Hussain are the petitioners who challenged the project before the court.

One official in the Punjab Advocate General said yesterday the government would not provide details about the project or present a legal argument to challenge the claims against it. There is much at stake: The 27-kilometer long route is now by far the government’s biggest project. Campaigners said it Rs168 billion budget is diverting funds which could be spent on health and education.

Its high cost has brought greater scrutiny of its impact on the city’s landscape and increasing opposition from campaigners dedicated to conserving Lahore’s rich architectural heritage.

The construction project will annex the land in front of the British era GPO building on the Mall. The garden of the Chauburji Mughal era monument on Multan Road will also be seized and the view of the building obscured. Campaigners claim the construction will also overshadow the walls of the legendary Shalamar Garden, The Old Anarkali market, Kapoorthala House, and the Supreme Court buildings are also under threat, along with Saint Andrew’s and Cathedral Churches.

Last month, on December 16th, a two-judge bench of the High Court issued notices to the Punjab government, Planning and Development Commission, Departments of Environment and Archeology, and Nespak to explain what they are doing to safeguard the city’s built heritage. Counsel for the petitioners asked the court to suspend all demolition and clearing work on the Metro and any further government spending on it.