LAHORE: The $1.75bn Lahore Metro Orange Line project has drawn considerable flak from civil society groups and social activists, but the Supreme Court has rejected their protests and the Punjab provincial administration insists the system will be of great benefit to the city.
Critics of the project believe the new, mostly elevated, railway will damage Lahore’s cultural heritage. According to Raheem ul Haque, of the Center for Public Policy and Governance at Forman Christian College, “the Orange Line Metro is destroying the very character of the city.”
“The government has broken its own heritage laws and plagiarized [a] feasibility report,” he told Arab News. “This is despite the fact that it could have used tunnel boring technology, since that would have helped with improved mobility without causing any damage to the heritage sites.”
The history of the Orange Line project can be traced back to 2005, when the former chief minister of Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, asked the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to develop a mass transit network to meet the requirements of the densely populated city of Lahore. The agency proposed an underground transportation system, but that was shelved at the end of Pervaiz Elahi’s tenure.
The project was revived in 2012, when the present administration hired the services of the same agency to develop a fresh feasibility report. Following a comprehensive survey, JICA proposed developing four mass transit corridors for the city: the Green Line, Purple Line, Blue Line and Orange Line.
The Green Line — a 27km-long bus route — is already operational and, according to the Punjab Mass Transit Authority, has a daily ridership of 380,000. However, the second phase of the project, the Orange Line train service, has met with resistance from civil society groups, who believe it will pose a significant threat to the city’s historic sites.
Punjab’s provincial administration, however, insists the project — which is expected to begin operating in March next year — is in the public interest and has only been implemented after a careful study that ensured the safety of the monuments.
“The danger to a building starts when the vibration level created by a train reaches three millimeters per second,” Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan, the official spokesperson of the Punjab government, told Arab News. “In the case of this project, this level stands at 0.3 millimeters per second. That is much lower than the dangerous level.”
The Orange Line will meander through some of the oldest parts of the city, where several historic sites — including the Shalimar Gardens, Chauburji and the GPO — are located. Some of the at-risk buildings were constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries and many are already dilapidated, creating greater concern about the project, which aims to serve about 250,000 commuters a day.
According to Rasta Badlo Tehreek (or the Change the Route Movement), the project is not just dangerous to the archaeological sites, but also damaging to public health. The pressure group — an umbrella organization of various civil society bodies and activists — proclaims on its website: “Lahore’s particulate matter index [which is used to measure air pollution] is extremely high, as per the standards of the World Health Organization.”
And the group believes the situation will only get worse, since the elevated viaducts for Orange Line trains will “trap this particulate matter further and result in adverse impacts on human health.”
The critics filed a writ against the project, challenging the construction of the rail network and getting a High Court stay order that temporarily halted all work within 200 feet of any historical site.
But the final judgment in the case, made in the Supreme Court last week, went against them and construction can now go ahead unfettered.
“It is an environment-friendly project,” insisted Punjab administration spokesman Khan. “[It] will substantially reduce the number of private vehicles on the road by providing commutation facility to 275,000 people every day.”
End of the line for Lahore Metro protests?
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