SC gives green signal to signal-free corridor

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The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday validated the Lahore Signal-Free Corridor project initiated, approved and executed by the Punjab government through Lahore Development Authority (LDA).

As per details, the construction of the project was awarded to the contractor on February 19, 2015, who had already undertaken construction in the value of Rs 60 million before the interim restraint order was issued by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on March 6, 2015.

The three-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Umar Ata Bandial heard the case and issued orders.

The court in its written order stated that in the vacuum resulting from the absence of an elected Lahore Metropolitan Corporation, the initiation, approval and execution of the disputed signal-free corridor project by the provincial government through its agency, LDA, is held to be valid. The said project may accordingly be completed subject to provision of additional facilities for pedestrians, inter-alia, including road crossing and passes at intervals of one-kilometer or less along the project road distance.

The court directed that any new project falling within the domain of Lahore Metropolitan Corporation for approval or execution cannot be undertaken by the provincial government or its agency without prior consultation and consent, unless withheld without justified reasons, as the case may be, of the elected Lahore Metropolitan Corporation in respect of such project.

The court in its written order observed that elected local governments are presently not in existence in Punjab and their duties and functions are being performed by the government through its agencies.

In the present case, the powers in relation to master plan and spatial planning historically belonging to Lahore Metropolitan Corporation have been superimposed with similar functions vesting in LDA under provincial law.

To the extent of conflict in the exercise of their respective powers and functions by the two bodies or on account of legal provisions having overriding effect, Article 140-A of the constitution confers primacy upon the authority vesting in an elected local government over the powers conferred by law on the provincial government or an agency thereof. Notwithstanding the above, the provincial government is in any case under a duty to establish a harmonious working relationship with an elected local government wherein respect is accorded to the views and decisions of the latter.

Accordingly, Section 46 of the LDA Act, 1975, purporting to override conflicting action taken by an elected local government, is held to be against the scheme of the constitution and should either be read down or declared ultra-vires as determined in the detailed judgment, the order stated.

The order further stated that Section 5(6) of the Punjab Environmental Protection Act, 1997 imposes a mandatory duty on the provincial government to constitute an advisory committee under the said act.

“This committee is meant to assist the Environmental Protection Agency in evaluating the environmental impact of projects under consideration,” the order added.

The failure by the provincial government to constitute the said committee violates its statutory duty. However, in the present case the impugned judgment has not attended any objection to the EIA on its merits, nor have the respondents highlighted any objection that has remained unattended and yet is fatal to the EIA. Moreover, the right of appeal and further remedies on the merits of the EIA approval available under the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997, has not been availed by the objecting respondents. The EIA cannot be struck down upon presumption or mere apprehension.

The action proposed in the impugned judgment to be taken against the officials of the LDA or any other person as envisaged by paragraph 100-A thereof is also set aside, the court order said.