LAHORE - Unesco’s World Heritage Committee, in its draft decision on Shalimar Gardens and Orange Line Metro Train, clearly says that OLMT poses an irreversible and permanent threat to Shalimar Gardens, which is a World Heritage Site, and it may be taken off the World Heritage Sites list permanently if the project goes ahead as planned.

The World Heritage Committee released the draft decision keeping in view the longstanding debate on the transportation-led development project of the Punjab government. The government is carrying out construction work inside the 61-metre protective buffer zone of the international heritage site of Shalimar Garden in violation of international laws as well as the national antiquities act.

This draft decision will be finalised through a vote of member states in the upcoming WHC meeting in July 2017. This was stated at a press conference at the Lahore Press Club on Friday. Lahore Conservation Society’s Maryam Hussain, former director of NCA Rawalpindi Dr Nadeem Omar Tarar¸ ICOMOS Vice President Fauzia Qureshi, Advocate Saroop Ijaz and painter and activist Dr Ajaz Anwar were also present on the occasion.

The World Heritage Committee in its draft decision urged the Punjab government to immediately suspend work in the immediate vicinity of Shalamar Gardens. It requested the State Party (Punjab government) to identify an alternative location for the OLMT and regretted that the Reactive Monitoring Mission was not invited (not given visas by the Pakistan government) as requested by the World Heritage Committee.

It expressed concern at the decision of the Department of Archaeology and Museums (Punjab) to issue an NOC for the OLMT and said the government had not complied with the requests made by the committee, nor proposed any clear way forward considering the fact that construction work undertaken and planned for the OLMT posed a threat to the OUV of the property.

It regretted that no exhaustive impact assessment was undertaken for the OLMT or Visual Impact Study was conducted as requested by the World Heritage Committee. It requested the State Party to carry out a comprehensive Heritage Impact Assessment and Visual Impact Study in line with WHC/ICOMOS guidelines.

It said the Supreme Court was likely to give a verdict on the OLMT project before the Reactive Mission visits the property and requests the Pakistan government to issue visas.

The Lahore Conversation Society said that removal of Shalamar Gardens and Lahore Fort from the list of world heritage sites would jeopardise the future support (technical and financial) from Unesco, the World Bank and the IMF and compromise the revenue generated by heritage tourism.

In the light of the draft decision, ICOMOS Pakistan and the civil society have urged the government to modify the OLMT project in line with international guidelines for heritage protection. The government was urged to honour its commitments with Unesco.

ICOMOS Pakistan said that no government had the mandate or right to deprive the future generations of their fundamental rights to their heritage and history.

Unesco’s approved scientific advisory bodies, including ICOMOS and ICCROM, said in their findings that OLMT would compromise authenticity and integrity of the property and threaten its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). They said the full impact of the project on the OUV of the Shalimar Gardens would go beyond potential vibration impact.

The Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) provided to the WHC by the government is not in line with international standards and fails to address the full range of impact of the project. It is not clear on what grounds the State Party decided that the OLMT would have no negative impact on the OUV of the property. Also, it was not clear on what basis the Punjab Department of Archaeology issued a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) for this project.

In the absence of any mitigation measures proposed by the State Party, it recommended that the committee immediately put the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It recommended that the Committee ask the State Party to invite a Reactive Monitoring Mission to define comprehensive mitigation measures and reverse threats to the property. It recommended that the Committee request the State Party to immediately stop construction work on the section of OLMT where it approaches Shalamar Gardens.