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SC irked by need for ‘foreign experts’ in Orange Line case

ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court judge hearing the Orange Line Metro Train case regretted on Tuesday the national tendency to expect foreign experts to show us the way.

“It is a sad and painful aspect of the matter that we wait for some magician from outside to come and change the fate of the country,” observed Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, adding that now it was expected that work on the Orange Line project would remain suspended until someone could come and teach us how to protect and preserve our historical monuments.

“We ourselves are conscious that our heritage must be preserved and protected,” Justice Afzal said.

Justice Afzal heads the five-judge Supreme Court bench that has taken up identical petitions filed by the Punjab government, Lahore Development Authority, the Punjab Mass Transit Authority and Nespak, challenging the Lahore High Court’s suspension of construction work on the Orange Line project within 200 feet of 11 heritage sites.

The order came on a petition filed by architect and civil society activist Kamil Khan Mumtaz.

The heritage sites include Shalimar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu ka Awa, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s Tomb, Lakshmi Building, General Post Office, Aiwan-i-Auqaf, Supreme Court’s Lahore registry, St Andrews Presbyterian Church on Nabha Road and Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari’s shrine.
Court told Unesco team, not granted visas in January, plans to visit this month

The observation came when Advocate Khawaja Ahmed Hassan, representing human rights activist I.A. Rehman, told the court that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) Reactive Monitoring Mission wanted to visit in January to examine the impact of the ongoing project on the Shalimar Gardens — one of the monuments listed as a world heritage site. But, the counsel said, they were never issued visas and were now trying to come to the country this month.

But Justice Afzal observed: “We were conscious of the threat the construction of the mass transit system may pose to the cultural site.”

Everybody suddenly woke up to the threat to the Shalimar Gardens when the Orange Line project was initiated, but they were sleeping when the same monument was earlier being encroached upon by ostensibly illegal construction, he maintained.

Justice Afzal also regretted that the Lahore High Court decided the matter without seeking expert opinion.

Earlier, Advocate Makhdoom Ali Khan, representing PMTA, argued that the high court struck down the NOC issued for the project, despite the fact that LDA and Nespak reports — based on geo-technical data — listed the stringent tests and methods employed to assess the impact of vibrations on the heritage sites.

The impact of vibration from the metro train was far less than the permitted threshold in all 10 sites, the counsel argued, adding that the high court still suspended the NOCs, after which revised NOCs were issued on the basis of five more studies, which also conceded that there would be no damage to the heritage sites.

The counsel also argued that the respondents did not produce any report to the contrary and rejected the Nespak and LDA reports on the grounds that the consultants were not independent.

According to the counsel, the respondents objected because one of the consultants, Dr Ayesha Pamela Rogers, had represented Pakistan at a Unesco meeting in Istanbul, even though she had never represented the country.

He conceded that Dr Rogers was engaged when Unesco declared the Shalimar Gardens an endangered site, and that she helped get the site removed from the endangered list, the counsel said.

Makhdoom Ali Khan argued that the high court should not have decided the disputed facts in the Orange Line project on the basis of its writ jurisdiction and, therefore, its judgement lacked any legal basis.

Later, LDA counsel Advocate Khawaja Haris said some part of the green areas around Chauburji would be taken away by project, but contended that earlier, the historical gate had been surrounded by shops and encroachments.

These were cleared in 1995, when all the encroachments and shops were removed and a green roundabout developed, in addition to the restoration and renovation of three of its minarets, he said.

Mr Haris maintained that a monitoring committee would be formed to keenly observe any damage to sites and, in case of any future damage, the same would be repaired.

The case will be taken up again on Wednesday.

Courtesy : Dawn News

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