Conservationists have adamantly voiced concern over the Punjab government’s much-trumpeted Orange Line Metro Train project. As apprehensions regarding safety of the heritage sites persisted, civil society members chose to write to UNESCO to intervene. The UN’s cultural arm obliged and has written a letter to its representatives in the Pakistan National Commission to take up the issue with the Punjab government- particularly regarding the elevated stretch, passing along the Shalimar Gardens.

The Rs 165 billion Lahore Orange Line Metro Train project will connect Raiwind, Multan Road, McLeod Road, Lahore Junction Railway Station and the Grand Trunk Road. It is country’s first mass rapid transit train system, and is being financed and developed by the Chinese government.

Groups like The Lahore Bachao Tehreek, the Office of Conservation and Community Outreach (OCCO), the Lahore Conservation Society and the HRCP have rallied together along with prominent professionals from the architecture and engineering fraternity to raise concerns about the proposed route.

Many wonder aloud how the route was planned and who decided on the required land acquisition. The land holding range between 1.5 marlas and four marlas. Residents criticize the government for needlessly depriving them of their homes, where 40 out of the 140 houses have been demarcated. Central to the heated debate in Lahore is also the question of why the government didn’t employ tunnel boring machines (TBMs), the use of which is considered the most safe and viable for infrastructure.

There is a consummate lack of consensus on design and planning approaches for the city. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is obviously not pleased with the adverse reaction to his pet project and has been at pains to quash what he termed were “rumours” that Lahore’s heritage sites would be harmed. The squashing will only make dissent worse, as it has always done for the CM.

While development work is important, genuine environmental concerns and potential dangers to protected sites must not be ignored. The government still has a chance of protecting these precious tokens from history and changing the route of the Orange Line metro. Development does not have to be in binary with the wreckage of our culture and heritage.