LAHORE - The Orange Line Metro Train is not a threat to city’s cultural beauty as proper planning was done before executing this project and no violation of law was made, the Lahore Development Authority told the Lahore High Court yesterday.

As the hearing commenced, Shahid Hamid, the counsel of Lahore Development Authority, presented his arguments before the bench headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and comprising Justice Shahid Karim. The counsel said that petitioners were not bona fide petitioners in the case and they simply were misusing public interest litigants to jeopardise the mega project.

In fact, the counsel said, so far no convincing arguments against construction of the Orange line have been brought to light. Instead of making a point, the critics are just pointing fingers on environmental issues, land acquisition and the amount being spent on it, he added.

‘NO THREAT TO CITY’

China is funding this project while all other state agencies including the Environmental Department and Archeology department raised no objection on its construction, the counsel further said.

Advocate Khurram Chughtai, the counsel of LDA and Punjab Mass Transit Authority, and Advocate Mustafa Ramday, the counsel in land acquisition cases, were also present in the court.

Shahid Hamid argued that petitioners had accepted in their petitions - WP 3929/2015 and WP 5793/2016 - that they did not oppose the OLMTP. He said the mass transit in Lahore is direly needed, and the government is to be congratulated for taking the initiative to provide enhanced mobility to the public.

Organisations like the Judicial Activism Panel, Lahore Bachao Tehreek, the Lahore Conservation Society, the Office for Conservation & Community Outreach (OCCO) and others are not opposed to the vision espoused by the Punjab Government under Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s leadership but would like to participate in the ongoing reshaping of Lahore as stakeholders who bring serious imagination to the table, Mr Hamid told the court.

He further argued the petitioners themselves submitted that they would have had no objection to the OLMTP if it had been built as per the MV Asia study. On the other hand, Shahid Hamid said, they were praying to declare commercial contract between CR-NORINCO and PMA as null; they also prayed to declare EPA approval as void as well as land acquisition for OLMTP.

The petitioners challenged working and role of LDA in this project but could not submit any solid ground, according to the LDA counsel.

‘POLITICALLY CHARGED PETITIONS’

He added: “It is self-evident that in fact the petitioners are opposing a project that is manifestly in the public interest, especially for the poor and lower middle income groups. The petitioners are also deliberately jeopardising the CPEC investment of 46 billion dollars apart from the most concessional loan of 1.62 billion dollars for the OLMTP. The beneficiaries of the OLMTP are estimated to be 250,000 riders daily on the 27.1 km length as compared to 145,000 passengers daily on the 8,000 km track of Pakistan Railways.”

“All this confirms that this litigation is not in public interest, rather it is inspired and motivated by private and political considerations,” the counsel maintained.

He further pointed out that the opposition to almost every important project in Lahore, including widening of the roads along the canal, construction of the flyover near Gaddafi Stadium, Gulberg-Jail Road Signal Free Corridor Project, raised the costs of projects.

At least some of them (petitioners) have professed Lahore should return to a state where the main means of transport are bicycles and tongas and they are wholly oblivious to the needs of a mega city, the LDA counsel held.

Shahid Hamid also raised objection to the timing of petitions filed nearly six months after the public hearing held by the EPA on June 30, 2015, and nine months after the signing of the Contract on April 20, 2015 for the project.

“The deliberate delay prives mala fide and blatant attempt to cause maximum monetary loss to public revenue, and embarrassment to the respondents, by bringing the shadow of litigation, stay orders, etc, at a manifestly delayed/belated stage,” the LDA counsel said, adding that the delay would also jeopardise Pakistan’s relations with its friend and ally China.

He pleaded the court to take notice of misusing the public interest litigation. “The public interest litigation is to be entertained only in the interests of social and economically disadvantaged groups who cannot move the court due to poverty and disability.”

‘VIBRATIONS WITHIN LIMITS’

Shahid Hamid said that presentation on heritage sites for Director General Archeology by NESPAK inclusive of Vibration Analysis of Viaducts is showing that the vibration level of construction equipment at locations of heritage sites were within the allowable limits.

“The vibration induced by passage of trains is within the limits set up for heritage sites according to international standards,” he added.

The electric trains will reduce traffic congestion and air and noise pollution in the vicinity of the most prominent monuments.

The LDA counsel told the court that 25 percent civil work was completed while 99 percent land acquisition was already done.

He further said that the authority has fully briefed the Building Committee of the Supreme Court and the Postal Authorities who have raised no objection to the proposed cut and cover construction.  He said there will be no visual impairment in regard to the Supreme Court building, Shah Chiragh Chambers, GPO and Hazrat Mauj Derya shrine, because the construction of the track will be underground.

According to the counsel, there is no building behind the façade of Lakshmi Mansion. The track when it crosses Lakshmi Mansion will be 12 meters high and even visual impairment will be at a minimum, he submitted in the court.

Earlier, the bench asked Attorney general of Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf and Advocate General Punjab Shakilur Rehman in the chamber and heard their arguments on the application seeking permission for submission of documents in the chamber rather than in open court.

Both the law officers came out of the chamber shortly. Later, the court observed that it did not dismiss the petition while the news stating that the plea was dismissed was false. The court asked both sides for further arguments and deferred hearing for Thursday.

Civil Society and others had challenged construction of the Orange Line project, stating it would destroy the cultural beauty of the city. They had submitted that it was approved in an illegal way. They prayed to the court to save the city by setting aside this project.

On January 28, the court stayed the project at eleven historical sites of the city.