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Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) is an under-construction rapid transit line being built as part of the Lahore Metro. The Orange Line will be Pakistan’s first modern rail-based mass rapid transit system and will be a fully automated and driverless. At the cost of $ 1.6 billion, the Orange Line aims to cater to the transport needs of a growing city by ferrying up to 30,000 passengers per hour.

UNESCO stated that the Punjab government did not take it on the board prior to launching this development project, particularly at the stretch passing along the Shalamar Gardens that is on the list of world heritage list.

The 27km long track, starting from Ali Town and going all the way to Dera Gujran, has allegedly put about 11 historical and protected monuments at risk, according to experts; Shalamar Gardens, General Post Office, Lahore High Court, Mauj Darya shrine, and Chuburji being the most imminent.

As soon as the work commenced on the mega project, many civil society activists and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) raised serious concerns about the viability of the OLMT due to the potential threats it posed to environment and world heritage sites.

The Punjab Government filed an appeal against the stay in the Supreme Court of Pakistan which reserved its judgment on the appeal in April 2017.

UNESCO called for halting construction within 200 feet of registered world heritage sites. UNESCO stated that the Punjab government did not take it on the board prior to launching this development project, particularly at the stretch passing along the Shalamar Gardens that is on the list of world heritage list.

In November 2015, a petition was filed against the OLMT in Lahore High Court which granted a stay in January 2016 on the construction work of OLMT in the 200-metre radius of 11 heritage sites, protected under the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance, 1985 and Antiquity Act, 1975.

The Punjab Government filed an appeal against the stay in the Supreme Court of Pakistan which reserved its judgment on the appeal in April 2017.The sites include Shalamar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu ka Awa, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s tomb, Lakhshmi Building, General Post Office, Aiwan-i-Auqaf, Supreme Court’s Lahore registry building, St Andrews Presbyterian Church on Nabha Road and Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari Shrine.

The Punjab Government filed an appeal against the stay in the Supreme Court of Pakistan which reserved its judgment on the appeal in April 2017.

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Concerns on the OLMT:

UNESCO, civil society and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) have raised serious concerns on the Punjab’s government project. They believe that OLMT will irreversibly compromise the authenticity and integrity of heritage sites located in the vicinity of the proposed project.

The Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) provided to the WHC by the Pakistan is not in line with international standards.

On June 16, 2017, UNESCO ‘s World Heritage Committee released draft decision on Shalimar Gardens and Orange Line Metro Train clearly mentions that OLMT poses an irreversible and permanent threat to Shalimar Gardens which is a World Heritage Site, and it may be taken off from World Heritage register permanently if the project goes ahead as planned.

The draft decision was made keeping in view the construction inside the 61m protective buffer zone of the international heritage site of Shalimar Garden property violating international laws as well national antiquities act.

The WHC should request the state party to immediately stop construction work on the section of OLMT where it approaches Shalamar Gardens and if it doesn’t do so, the sites mentioned be removed permanently from World Heritage Register.

Draft decision of the committee, shared by the Pakistan chapter of International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) contained following concerns.

  1. The Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) provided to the WHC by the Pakistan is not in line with international standards.
  2. The government of Punjab failed to address the full range of impacts of the project.
  3. It is not clear on what grounds Pakistan decided that the Orange Line train will have no negative impacts on the sites.
  4. The government has failed to justify the basis on which Punjab Department of Archaeology issued a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) for this project.”

The decision also provided the following recommendations to compel the government to comply with the international standards on protection of heritage sites.

  1. In the absence of any mitigation measures proposed by the state, it is recommended that the committee immediately inscribes the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
  2. It also requests the state to invite a Reactive Monitoring Mission to define comprehensive mitigation measures and reverse threats to the property.
  3. The WHC should request the state party to immediately stop construction work on the section of OLMT where it approaches Shalamar Gardens and if it doesn’t do so, the sites mentioned be removed permanently from World Heritage Register.

This draft decision will be finalized through a vote of member states in the upcoming WHC meeting in July 2017. The intention of the committee is not to remove the garden from the World Heritage Register but to pressurize the government to protect the sites according to the international standards.

Read more: Pakistan and ‘Saaf Pani’ projects: Failed projects or merely a hoax?

Is OLMT really necessary?

The current PML-N government is spending billions on infrastructural projects with a primary focus on the transportation system in the country. Starting from Lahore Metro project, the government also invested billions in the construction of Rawalpindi and Multan Metro Bus Projects. It decided to launch OLMT in Lahore to address the growing needs of transportation of the residents of the capital of Punjab. However, the latest transportation project is facing severe resistance from civil society and international bodies due to the threat it poses to the world heritage site.

Other sectors need immediate attention of the government, primary among which are agriculture, education, and health. The hospitals in the province of Punjab have been afflicted with abysmal standards. The agriculture production is at its lowest for several decades which is alarming. The government also needs to introduce a uniform and standard system of education in the country. As the elections come near, pressure would mount on the incumbent government to deliver public services which merit immediate attention.

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