LAHORE - The Orange Line Metro Train case has hit with an unforeseen delay, after two members of the newly constituted full bench yesterday declined from hearing the petitions “for personal reasons”.

Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and Justice Shahid Karim have stepped down from being part of the full bench, Attorney General of Pakistan Salman Butt, Advocate General Punjab Shakilur Rehman and civil society’s lawyer Advocate Azhar Siddique was told at the chamber of Justice Muhammad Khalid Mehmood Khan. After their refusal, Justice Khan sent all the petitions to Chief Justice of Lahore High Court for further orders.

On March 19, Chief Justice Ijazul Ahsan had constituted a full bench for hearing the petitions challenging Orange Line and Coal Power projects together, after Justice Khan had requested the CJ to constitute a larger bench on a plea by AGP.

However the bench members declined to hear the petitions, before the newly constituted full bench could start its proceedings.

On the other hand, the counsel of civil society says the constitution of larger bench at this stage was inappropriate at the first place. “The bench which has referred the petition to the chief justice did not mention reasons for constitution of a larger bench,” Azhar Siddique told The Nation. “Merely saying that the parties are agreed for larger bench does not empower constitution of a larger bench.

“Even otherwise, the division bench headed by Justice Muhammad Khalid Mehmood Khan is hearing a petition against coal power projects and it has no relevance with other petitions challenging the Metro Orange Line project,” he added.

Mr Azhar believes that if this practice was allowed, it will impair the judicial system and public confidence. “That is why the Attorney General insisted for vacation of stay when both the federal and provincial governments had claimed in their press statements that Orange Line was not the part of CPEC.”

Sources said a division bench, headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and comprising Justice Shahid Karim, was already hearing petitions filed against the Orange Line Project. The bench had almost completed its arguments on the case. Attorney General of Pakistan Salman Butt had also completed his arguments on a stay application filed by the federal government. Only the newly appointed Advocate General Punjab, Shakil-ur-Rehman, was due to argue on the case before the bench but a full bench was made instead.

According to the sources, Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and Justice Shahid Karim declined as they both had almost completed their case and were near to decide it. “The case would be back before the bench,” the sources added.

After refusal yesterday, the Attorney General of Pakistan and Advocate General Punjab sat with LDA’s counsel Shahid Hamid and other law officers at Attorney General Office to discuss how they could vacate stay order on the project.

Sources told The Nation that the authorities were worried over the dissolution of the full bench. They said Advocate General Punjab Shakilur Rehman and other law officers gave briefings to the Attorney General about the case.

Salman Butt asked the law officers not to be worried much, saying that the government’s point of view would be presented in detail if any new bench was constituted. He said the government’s stance would be more powerful as billions of rupees have already been spent on the project.

On January 28, an LHC division bench headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh stayed any construction work within 200 feet of historical sites on the route of Orange Line. Eleven historical buildings, including Lahore Registry of the Supreme Court, Shalimar Garden, Chauburji, Saint Andrew’s Church, GPO Building, Tomb of Mehrunnisa, Budhu ka Awa, Tomb of Baba Mauj Dariya, Shah Cheragh Building, Awan-e-Auqaf and Dai Anga Tomb, are located on the project’s route.