LAHORE – The Lahore High Court today stayed the construction of $1.6 billion Orange Line Project within 200 feet of 11 historical sites of the city after the government’s lawyer failed to give reasons behind the change of route of the project.

 The places where further work has been disallowed  are  near Lakashmi building, Shalamar Garden, GPO Chowk, Aiwan-i-Auqaf, Shah Charagh building, Supreme Court registry, Saint Andrew Church, Baba Mauj Darya’s shrine, Ghulabi Bagh, Bhudhu ka Awa, Chauburji and tomb of Zeb-un-Nisa

The order was passed by a two-judge comprising Justices Abid Aziz Sheikh and Shahid Karim on several petitions that termed the project a threat to the city’s heritage. Further proceedings on the petitions would be conducted on Feb 04.

During arguments, when the bench sought a written statement regarding protection of the historical monuments and city heritage and No-Objection Notification (NOCs) for it, the government’s counsel failed to produce any document.

Advocate Azhar Siddique, the counsel of the civil society, told the bench that the Punjab government transferred Archeology Department Director General to pave the way for the construction of the China-financed project. He also pointed out that so far 26 people had died in accidents due to the Orange line project.  

The petitioners’ counsel pointed out that the government started work on this project in September last year but for an agreement for the loan had been signed during the current month. This, he argued, showed that the work on this ‘wasteful project’ was being carried out with public money.

At this point, the court asked Khawaja Haris to clarify the situation. The government’s counsel, however, could not convince the court.

The government’s lawyer also failed to satisfy the court when he was asked if the government took clearance from different departments before starting this project.  

The petitioners’ counsel told the court that before initiation of the project, electricity, water and Sui gas lines were not shifted to proper places, nor had any alternative plan been given for vehicular traffic. It was for this reason that traffic jams had become order of the day and even ambulances remain stuck for hours.

On previous hearing, the bench had ordered the Punjab government to produce documents signing reasons behind the change of route of the project when Khwaja Haris Advocate pleaded the court to decide the matter immediately. The project was the part of CPEC and the Chinese government had to provide funding for it. The image of the country would be damaged if the project was delayed, he pleaded.

 The government’s lawyer also read technical and feasibility reports before the court by emphasizing over a point that Shalmar and Chauburji both would not be affected. “Orange Line Train will be a light train and its speed and vibration will not be like other trains we already have,” said the counsel. He contended that it would not affect the environment because the train would be run on electricity and not on oil or gas.

 Cecil and Iris Chaudhry foundation, 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. They submitted $1.6 b project was also not approved by the Punjab Assembly. They said the project put heritage of the Lahore city on stake as 26 historical and protected monuments including Shalimar Garden, General Post Office, Supreme Court-Lahore registry, Lahore High Court and Chauburji were going to lose their significance.

They said the government was utilizing funds allocated for other sectors like education and health for the project of metro train. Unesco also opposed the project for being a serious threat to environment and other reasons, they said.

The petitioners prayed the court to suspend all process including initiation of Orange Line Project, demolition, building of any part, and as well as allocation and spending of funds pertaining to the project till decision of the petition.

Beside it, the affectees of the project also staged protests and attacked on the construction site in Samnabad. They said they would die but would not allow construction of this project.