Lahore Orange Line Metro Train gets a fresh breather!

OLMT undoubtedly will soon upgrade Lahore to the level of a modern metropolis with world-class infrastructure and international standard civic facilities

At last, the wait is over as the Supreme Court on Friday allowed the Punjab government to proceed with the construction of Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) project in Lahore, subject to 31 conditions. In any case, this is the decision that a common man was hoping to hear since long because the delay has not only caused financial loss to the national exchequer but it was worsening the situation for those who travel from these areas daily or even those hawkers, fruit-sellers present around the sites. A common man, who works day and night to earn living, was the direct affectee.

Thus, this is the decision welcomed by almost everyone, and now, the Punjab government is making tremendous efforts to timely complete this mega project, keeping in view the massive time already been lost. Despite of all the convenience this project aimed at for the uplift of common man’s traveling standards – the cases against its completion are justified?

In September 2015, a petition was filed against OLMT project in which concerns were raised over the measures taken for protection of the heritage sites on its route. The Lahore High Court in January 2016, granted a stay order in the 200-metre radius of 11 heritage sites, protected under the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance, 1985 and Antiquity Act, 1975. These sites included Shalamar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu ka Awa, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s Tomb, Lakshmi Building, General Post Office, Aiwan-i-Auqaf, Supreme Court’s Lahore registry building, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church at Nabha Road and Hazrat Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari’s Shrine.

The Lahore High Court then on August 19, 2016, gave the verdict on filed appeals that the construction of the project within 200 feet of these 11 protected heritage sites, must immediately be stopped.

Immediately after this decision, the Punjab government as well as the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK), Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and Punjab Transit Authority filed appeals in the Supreme Court. NESPAK along with China Engineering Consulting Group also in its appeal clearly stated that the Lahore High Court while making their decision has not taken into account its national and international expertise, experience and its status as well.

The Supreme Court after a very long delay finally announced the verdict this Friday, which was earlier reserved in April this year.

The judicial system in Pakistan unquestionably has a great history, when it comes to establishing the rule of law and upholding democratic norms in different eras. However, there also has been an upsetting part that so much time is consumed by our courts in giving decisions on matters, which are very central to public interest. As in this case, the final and the concrete verdict has come after 22 months, and during this time, the OLMT cost has escalated as it is learnt that the delay was costing the public exchequer around Rs20 million on a daily basis. The Punjab government managed to negotiate with the local contractors to minimize its burden of loss, but in international contracting, it was extremely difficult to reduce such liabilities.  

The decision given by the Supreme Court revolves around 31 conditions aimed at preventing damage to buildings or creating any kind of destruction. These include the setting up of technical and heritage committees, and the monitoring of migrations from the rail using high quality machinery. The decision is excellent; however, it is the delay that has added huge pressure in terms of its completion in the given time.  

The engineering team now is instantly working on the installation of seismic sensors on historic sites as directed by the apex court, after which the construction around the heritage sites would begin. Then, the central station near Mall Road is the most important infrastructure of the project for both Pakistani and Chinese contractors. It is a three-storey underground structure with tonnes of equipment and systems to control the entire metro train operations, but no construction was commenced at the site due to the court’s stay order.

Studies have revealed that there are around 3 million pending court cases in Pakistan, which clearly indicates that weakened criminal and civil justice system delivery mechanisms are a major hurdle to them being resolved. According to the data collected from the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan till November 15, 2016,  there are 1954868 cases pending in different courts of the country.

This indeed is a very alarming sign, and the renowned senior jurists have also expressed their serious worries on it. Many of them strongly believe that with the existing number of judges, prosecutors and courts, it is impossible for these cases to be resolved in the future as well. In the end, it is the public that suffers the most, and especially in matters like OLMT, where great public stake is involved, a delay in judgment can result in enormous negative outcomes.     

The nature of pending cases issue is so complex that even the governments are falling prey to it, as governments have no influence on judiciary, which is again very positive as well. As in this case, the Punjab government is in a real spot of bother for in time completion of this project, and managing its increased expenses as well after the 22 months delay in the judicial process.     

As far as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are concerned, they need to understand that now they have huge political standing in the Pakistani political scene, and with it comes great responsibility. As an opposition party, it is absolutely fine to criticize government on various subjects, but just criticism is not going to do any benefit as you need substantial solutions as well. The OLMT project is neither for PML-N nor PTI, it is the city’s more than 11 million people that will emerge victorious, since they have a shortage of cheap and efficient mass transit.    

No one can deny this fact that Lahore is a city that houses hundreds of Mughal era sites and other buildings, tombs and gardens that date back still further in history. These sites add important value to the city, and hold meaning in the lives of people who live around them. Buildings such as the Shalimar Gardens are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and everyone now hopes that the Punjab government will carefully manage them in the light of Supreme Court's judgment, as government has successfully executed restoration in walled city and that of Shahi Hammam was praised worldwide.

The Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) undoubtedly will soon upgrade Lahore to the level of a modern metropolis with world-class infrastructure and international standard civic facilities. It will usher in a new era of swift, safe and honorable commuting for hundreds of thousands of common citizens of Pakistan, who hitherto had to face severe difficulties for getting to their workplace and other intra city destinations.

The writer has completed MPhil in Mass Communication from Beaconhouse National University, and passionately loves travelling and cricket.

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