The Punjab government seems to be committed to completing the Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) project at any cost as it has resumed construction near Chuburji in violation of court orders, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Chuburji is among 11 historical sites along which the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered a halt in construction for the project.
The OLMT project which became the talk of the town after a large number of residents and commuters began to suffer as a result of the construction work has also been controversial on other grounds.
The executing body of the OLMT project, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) had awarded contracts to two construction companies for package 1 and 2. The contract of package 1, from Dera Gujran to Chuburji, was rewarded to Habib Construction Service (HCS) while Maqbool Colson JV was responsible to for package 2, from Chuburji to Ali Town.
The proposed site for the project was Ali Town to Dera Gujran along the Grand Trunk (GT) Road to the railway station, across the city centre via Lakshmi Chowk, McLeod Road and Lake Road to Chauburji, before heading south-west along Multan Road and Raiwind Road.
Soon after the project started in Oct 2015, a number of petitions were filed in court against it, with civil society members and environmentalists expressing their concerns.
The Lahore High Court on Jan 28, 2016, granted a stay order on a petition which stated that the Punjab government was violating the Antiquity Act, 1975.
The court in its verdict on August 19 ordered the government to stop all construction work of the project within 200 feet of eleven historical buildings and ordered the formation of a review committee to assess the effects of the construction at these historical sites.
The eleven sites are Chauburji, Saint Andrew Church, GPO building, the tomb of Zeb-un-Nisa, Supreme Court Registry Branch, Aiwan-e-Auqaf, Shalimar Gardens, Budhu ka Awa, the tomb of Baba Mauj Daria, Lakshmi Building, and Shah Chiragh Building.
The court also nullified all previously granted no objection certificates (NOC), and revised NOCs were obtained for the resumption of work on the OLMT.
Construction work continued, except at the prohibited 11 sites, but in the first week of October 2016, LDA suspended the contract of Maqbool Colson JV. This contract was suspended after a Chinese inspection team found that the contractor had compromised on quality and flouted standard procedures.
The LDA in November re-awarded the contract to another construction company ZKB Reliable, but the court stopped the new contractor from working based on a petition filed by the former contractor Maqbool Colson. However, On December 15, the court allowed LDA to send a work letter to ZKB Reliable to resume work on package 2.
However, Maryam Hussain, a spokesperson for the Lahore Conservation Society alleged that this new contractor soon started work at one of the prohibited sites—Chuburji. “It was brought to our knowledge that ZKB Reliable has installed machinery at the half-constructed pillars built near Chuburji. When we reached there, workers were carrying out construction work and dispersed when they were told that they were violating court orders” she said and accused the government of allowing the contractor to restart their work. “No contractor or worker would by themselves dare to restart work at the site when the matter is sub judice,” she said.
Advocate Azhar Siddique, while talking to Pakistan Today, said that they had brought the matter of this new violation near Chuburji to the knowledge of the concerned authorities but they had not responded so far. He said that the government has committed contempt of court and he will move a petition for contempt next week.
During a survey of the site by Pakistan Today, it could be seen that the contractor had posted its banners on the pillars near Chuburji, and had also installed scaffolding with the pillars which have are already constructed within 20-25 meters of the historic building.
Sohail Janjua, a spokesperson of the LDA, rejected any violation of court orders. Talking to Pakistan Today, he said that such claims are nothing but propaganda against the government and that the LDA and other government agencies are committed to following the court’s orders.