The current case in the Supreme Court regarding the Orange line train has all the hallmarks of a classic David versus Goliath fight or – for the modern reader – the Star Wars Rebel Alliance versus the Empire. It’s the classic tale: an underdog fighting for a just cause versus a well-resourced evil behemoth.
On one hand are a group of motivated individuals who genuinely care about their environment and the applicability of law, on the other side is the government of Punjab with all its resources hell bent on constructing this train without any regard to culture heritage or due process of law, what to speak of UNESCO. Lawyers and supporters of the petitioners not only risk alienation from lucrative government contracts, but potentially punitive actions by the Punjab Government.
Having won the first round in the Lahore High Court, the case is now before the Supreme Court in Islamabad. The lawyers for the petitioners are appearing in the case pro bono, even paying for expenses out of their own pockets. On the other hand we have the might of the Punjab government with Mr Makhdoum Ali Khan as the lead council and Mr Shahid Hamid as the second council. According to Mr Fawad Chaudry of the PTI, Mr Shahid Hamid is being paid Rs 35 million to take on this case, as lead council Mr Makhdoum must be better compensated, Mr Khan who according to Chambers is one of the top three litigators in the country, according to urban legend is amongst the highest paid litigators in the land. Whatever his fee maybe, I am sure he is not acting pro bono.
The only time I met Mr Khan, was in the lawns of the Faletties hotel in Lahore, he was one of the representatives from Sindh for the annual moot of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), he appeared passionate about human rights and heritage and wrote for the left wing publication Viewpoint edited by Mr Mazhar Ali Khan and where one of the petitioners against the Orange train, Mr I A Rehman also used work. In the Supreme Court one of his opposing council will be Ms Asma Jahangir herself – a former chairman of HRCP. But I guess in the mid eighties we all believed in the myth Benazir Aygi Inqilab Laygi. That fell apart for some – just like Anakin Skywalker who turned to the dark side to become Darth Vader, with allure of power and approach to Emperor and in other cases substantial financial gain.
The key point in the Orange Line Metro case is the violation of the Antiquities Act 1975 – that specifies that all construction activities should be outside a buffer zone of 200 feet of a protected site. It further states that there the view of these sites should not be impeded by billboards or any kind of obstructions. The Orange Line alignment does not respect this buffer at over twelve locations. There is a sound technical reasoning why the 200 feet distance was chosen in the first place. Namely that at that distance the vibration attenuate to an extent that they are unnoticeable. On its part the Government of Punjab has stated that it has carried out a comprehensive study on the impact of vibrations and concluded that there was no mentionable impact. The petitioners however maintain that this study is flawed and that the designer was criminally negligent in so much as it wilfully ignored existing statutes whilst executing its commission. Let the court decide.
UNESCO on its website case C-171 Fort and Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, the UN agency clearly states its position and I quote… “The present buffer zone arrangement clearly lack formal recognition and can therefore be considered ineffective. While the Antiquities Act 1975 restricts all constructions within a distance of 200 feet of a protected site.” It further recommends “The Heritage Impact Assessment (carried out by Government of Punjab) unfortunately does not recognise the importance of the Buffer Zone and interpret the lack of control mechanisms and the occurring encroachments as a validation of the location of the metro line. Therefore, it is recommended that the Committee object to the currently proposed location of the Orange Line which potentially threatens the integrity and authenticity of the World Heritage property. It further suggests “…identify an alternative location beyond the buffer zone for this specific section of the Orange Line Metro”. It further suggests that the Committee should consider inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
As individuals our primary duty is to our families and earning a decent living, but we also owe a larger debt to society to distinguish right from wrong and condemn actions that violate our core ethics and damage our heritage. This much we owe the next generation that we should leave them a world if not better than at least not worse than at least the same as the one we were born into, in the end this is far more important than power and money.