Lahore’s incomplete Orange Line Metro Train looks set to see another delay – if not a permanent end – after the Punjab government cancelled the Operation and Management contract handed out by the previous provincial government. Citing legal and technical concerns, it is hoped that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s provincial government has not decided to scrap the project altogether; as billions have already been spent on infrastructure and procurement. Cancelling the Orange Line now would be a huge waste.
The previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) bulldozed this project through approval mechanisms amid campaigns by civil society activists, court orders against specific facets of the construction and displacement of various families around the construction sites around the city. The project has caused pain to residents of the city and concerned citizens have pointed out damages to heritage sites in the city, an increased loss of tree cover and other issues as reasons for not going through on the plan in the shape it was when the government gave it the green light. However, the PML-N government all but made sure that this project could not be rolled back when it hastily completed construction around contentious sites; cancelling the project now does more damage because the previous government ensured that there would be no going back.
Given the previous government’s ill-thought-out strategy of rushing an important and expensive project, it is hoped that this government displays a little more wisdom in this matter and looks to find new bidders quickly instead of cancelling the contract without an alternative. Whether the public transport system of Lahore needs an overhaul is a moot point; with the amount of money already invested, the government cannot possibly let the Orange Line stay unfinished.
The Orange Line plan had many flaws from the beginning and the previous government takes the blame for all of them. The current government, however, will be the only one at fault if it chooses to cancel the project now using legal and technical grounds as an excuse. The ruling party needs to ensure that this project gets completed one way or another; if it wants to improve upon things such as providing a contract to a different company for operation and management, doing so at the earliest possible opportunity is imperative. With parts of overhead bridges, underground stations and other partially completed infrastructure waiting for completion in the provincial capital, it is hoped that the government does not derail this project just to spite the previous government. Both the city and the country cannot afford this costly and vindictive power play.