Under the Antiquities Act 1975, no development schemes and new constructions can be undertaken near a heritage site, unless a distance of 200 hundred feet is maintained. The Orange Line seems to be on track to crash through not only the act, but plenty of other laws.
While the clause does say that prior permission can be sought before such constructions can be undertaken, it also begs the question why such permission is being allotted when it’s the safety of multiple heritage sites that is in question.
Advocate Chaudhry Shoaib Saleem points out that the Act does not offer complete protection to heritage sites.
“By allowing that the government can forgo the 200 feet rule with the director’s permission the act takes away the protection it offers,” he said.
“When the CM has planned for the project to go ahead what grade 20 officer will refuse him permission? And if he does for the sake of argument what about the project that has already started, and the billions of rupees that have been already spent,” he questioned.
Lahore is rich in heritage, to say the least. Older areas in the city are peppered with one heritage site after the other – the integrity of which has been maintained so far. However, the current government’s priority towards transportation above all else seems to make little sense to many.
“The development projects of the government are being blatantly exposed as unnecessary and ridiculous,” Imrana Tiwana, an environmentalist and urban planner, said.
“Only eight per cent of people have cars, the rest either walk or use public transport. When there are only eight per cent with cars then why are you making a signal free corridor? Who are these facilities for?” she questioned.
“Over 80 per cent in Lahore do not have safe drinking water; around 80 per cent also have no sewerage systems. Do we not have more crucial problems?” she continued.
If things go as planned for the government, the Orange Line stands to threaten multiple heritage sites around old Lahore. Shalimar Gardens, GPO building, Jain Mandir, Chauburji, and many other areas are currently under threat.
JUST SOME OLD GARDENS?
Shalimar Gardens have been a part of Lahore’s history since 1641. Construction that has begun at the centre of GT road for the Orange Line will not just put the Gardens at jeopardy but could cause substantial damage to heritage sites on either side of the road.
“The remains of Mughal Waterworks are in a traffic Island in the centre of the GT road. This means that this elevated train line is at the most 40-50ft from the perimeter wall of Shalimar Gardens and less than that from other heritage buildings such as Buddu’s Tomb, which is from the 17th century,” Maryam Hussain, a part of the #RASTABADLO movement wrote on her Facebook page.
“The current construction is approaching Shalimar at an alarming rate, and has already encroached the front of Buddu’s tomb,” she added.
Dr. Ajaz Anwar, a social worker and activist, has a long-standing history with heritage sites in Lahore. He has fought for them repeatedly, and can boast victory in some cases as well. When the Shalimar Gardens were under threat before, Dr Anwar wasted no time in being mobilised.
“Shalimar Bagh is very different and unique. It was built in the plains. Seven water tanks deliver water to one pond. Those water tanks and its doors are at risk. The track is going through the middle of these things. Whatever little is left of the waterworks is also being demolished,” he informed, while acknowledging that the demolition has not happened yet, but it might soon be on its way.
“What this government does is start with small things at first and then they pummel through with the real damage,” he added.
While the structures are yet to be taken down, Dr. Anwar is not hopeful that they will be as successful as they were in 1999, when the government went after the Gardens the first time.
“Back then I had appealed to UNESCO to look into the issue. I emailed Tani Guci, who was the director of UNESCO in Paris at the time, and she came all the way from there to resolve the issue,” he said.
The simple trick, many feel, would be to simply ask UNESCO to intervene again. However, Dr Anwar rightfully points out that UNESCO does not meddle in domestic affairs unless it absolutely needs to. Some civilian efforts need to be undertaken to stop the constructions.
“The Gardens are not just a world heritage site; it’s one on the endangered list. We have not yet informed UNESCO to act – we should – and no consensus has been reached within the party for this. I am not in favour of approaching governments or the courts, I would rather build pressure. What they do is go to the court and then you lose the case and the area is pulled down the very next day!” Dr Anwar said.
“A war we won in the high court over the signal free corridor was lost in the supreme court,” he added.
“Although it is believed that the train will go underground in front of Shalimar Gardens, it will pass directly below the Mughal Waterworks and will destabilize and most likely destroy this fragile structure,” Hussain had also pointed out.
THE GPO AND THE CHURCH:
The grand structure of the GPO has been marked and a portion of it could go down when construction begins for the Orange Line.
The GPO is in a more precarious situation because it is not private property – the structure, while it may form a part of our heritage, is publicly owned. However, public properties are not the only ones facing a threat.
Sitting right behind the GPO is the Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. The church predates Pakistan and has been standing since 1860. The Antiquities Act, 1975, states that ancient refers to anything that relates or belongs to any period prior to May 1875, which essentially renders the church heritage status.
Pastor Hanook Haque heads the church and has been at the helm of affairs since 2003. Close to 10 days ago, government officials came and began marking the church, without a notification or any letter of approval.
“People came and marked the church in Haque’s absence. We do not even know which portion will be taken or which area they are considering. Our worship will be affected because the entire premises is used for church activities,” Jamshed Rehmatullah, a patron of the church and a lawyer, lamented.
“You have to understand that our method of worship is different. It’s not like a mosque where just the men go and pray. Entire families come here and it’s a community-based system here,” Rehmatullah said.
The church is private land that belongs to the Presbyterian Church USA. The organisation has also invested in health and education institutions in Pakistan.
“It’s a private property… even if we are approached and offered compensation we don’t want it. Even if they offer us Rs 50 billion we will still say no. We are only here to worship,” Rehmatullah insisted.
If and when construction starts, the church will also face additional security concerns.
“You have the AG office here and the Supreme Court is right next door and we get security because of them. But if they start constructions and break apart the entire front portion and our lawn, we will be completely exposed,” Pastor Haque said.
If and when construction starts in this area it will take only a few days to uproot the church lawn, and it will undo years of efforts on part of the church’s community.
“We have been maintaining this building… this heritage… from our own personal donations. We get nothing from the government or anyone else. Our community donations from our members go into the maintenance of this place. When we run short of money we hold funfairs and activities, in the very lawn they have marked!” Pastor Haque explained.
Akram, a roadside vendor who has set up a clock stall beside the church wall and also acts as the building security guard, told Pakistan Today that he has been working at the church for a good part of the last 25 years.
“I was here when the men from the LDA showed up. They put up these markings and when I asked them what they were doing, they said the church was going to go down for the Orange Line. They said they were with the Metro,” he lamented.
“They came once before to take stock of the trees and this time they came to see the church and mark it. They have even marked the Supreme Court and the GPO right there,” he claimed.
CHAUBURJI UNDER SEIGE:
Mian Tahir Munir can probably tell the patrons of the church what’s about to come. While the church just found out about the markings, Munir has already fought the government in court and has managed to get a stay order for his plaza at the Chauburji roundabout – the 400-year-old Chauburji itself has had no protection.
“They came and suddenly started marking the area without any notice or public hearing. What we knew was that the route would pass through the opposite side, but that route was changed due to political pressure,” Munir told Pakistan Today.
“Even the environmental report was on the older route and notification,” he added.
There is a process that needs to be followed; in the case of the Orange Line, the government invented one for itself.
“When you want to start a project you have to issue a Section 4 and inform people that you require land. Then you can go and do a survey there, but they did a survey first which is illegal,” Munir explained and added: “It was LDA officials that came here. The local area patwari was also with them when they showed up.”
When Pastor Haque tried to get information on the markings, he was turned away. Munir had to face similar problems.
“We visited their office and no one was willing to give us any information. When we asked for notifications, we were told they had none and someone else had them. Every single time we reached out to someone for information they said they had no information and they had no notification,” Munir said.
While the government boasts of transparency, their conduct on the Orange Line has been anything but transparent.
“They are conducting surveys first and they are issuing notifications that are back dated,” Munir claimed.
An issue over private property might secure the plaza, but what will become of Chauburji itself?
Sarmad, a labourer from the Chauburji site, told Pakistan Today that some of the work has already been done on the site and work has only stopped because the new drawings are yet to be delivered for execution.
“It won’t fall,” he told Pakistan Today, “But we didn’t put it anything to fortify it. We weren’t told to do anything of the sort,” he added.
However, Dr Anwar points out that traffic and vibrations, and the constructions would cause actual damage to the area, given their close proximity with the structure.
Officials from both the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and the Traffic Engineering & Transport Planning Agency (TEPA) were unavailable for a comment despite repeated attempts.