Lahore: The 27.1-kilometer long Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT)Project has drawn criticism from every quarter concerned with the architectural beauty of Lahore that many believe has already been compromised with the building of metro bus through Ferozpur Road.
Experts have been trying to persuade the Punjab government to alter the existing framework on which the project is being built or to revert to the 2006 design to ensure minimum damage to the heritage and skyline of Lahore. The undeterred Punjab government has thus far refused to bow down and according to an insider, Shahbaz Sharif the Chief Minister Punjab, and the architect of the OLMT, has said that this project could only halt over his dead body.
However, Lahore High Court issued a stay order last week and stopped Punjab Government from constructions within 200 feet of 11 historical sites.
Talking to News Lens Pakistan, Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, an internationally recognized art historian, is sure that Shahbaz Sharif would see that this project is completed even if he is dead.
“The Sharif brothers consider themselves beyond reproach. They act like kings as if they own this city, and all others, have nothing to do with the heritage, the culture and the existence of Lahore. They way the PML-N government in Punjab is vandalizing with the culture of Lahore and are mutilating its legacy, even Sikhs, notorious for their hatred for the Muslims, dared not go that far,” said Aijazuddin.
Further elaborating on the issue, Aijazuddin said the monuments of Lahore dates back to 400 years, and every government had protected them except the PML-N. Every standard operating procedure, he added had been thrown out the window in the pursuance of the so-called Orange Line Metro Project. He demanded to know about the involvement of the planning department. He enquired if the transport or the department for tourism were taken into confidence before the inception of this project. Further questioning transparency he wanted to know as to who has received money from the Chinese. He guessed if it was the government or Shahbaz Sharif, who made the call. Lamenting over the hush-hush behavior of the PML-N, Aijazuddin said that nobody even knows the exact amount being taken for this project. Whatever we hear he said were just speculations.
According to the official figures though the OLMT project will be completed with an estimated value of 162 billion secured from Exim Bank of China. The punjab government would have to subsidize the project to meet its operational cost and revenue.
PML-N government have the tendency to initiate big-ticket projects without following up on the impact those projects have had on the economic, political or social landscape of the country. Seeking to know what has happened to all those projects, asked Aijazuddin.
“What has happened to other projects initiated in the name of public service by the PML-N government in Punjab: The yellow cab scheme; the laptop scheme; the Danish Schools; the yellow tractor project? Just because the Sharif brothers considered it their right to follow whatever they envision to be good for this province, did not mean it were good for the region. Then who could question them? In spite of stay taken from the High Court Lahore by different stakeholders, the government is pursuing the construction work.”
He said,“It is ridiculous that anything could be constructed beyond 200 meters from the monument. Two hundred meters is trivial considering the impact such a humongous project would have on the foundation and the architecture of the monuments.”
“Unless we vote PML-N out of power they will not stop mutilating this province, “said Aijazuddin.
The Orange Line track would start from Ali Town, passing through Thokar Niaz Baig, Bund Road, Chauburji, Anarkali, Lakshmi Chowk, Railway Station, University of Engineering and Technology, Shalimar Gardens, Islam Park and will terminate at Dera Gujran.
At least, 25 listed and protected sites such as Shalimar Garden, Chauburji, Lakshmi building, Mauj Darya shrine will be affected by the OLMT project. Several public service amenities such as graveyards, Imambargahs, hospitals and schools would suffer either demolition or partial destruction.
A school for physically challenged children in the vicinity of Jain Mandir will lose a significant portion of its property.
When News Lens Pakistan contacted the principal of the school for Disadvantaged Children, Ghazala Kaleem, she said that eventually the school would shift to another place because of the construction work impeding access to the school. However, she said the government had promised to build the school once the OML project was up and running.
In response to the question by News Lens Pakistan about Lahore eventually becoming a modern city with a positive effect on tourism, Mian Yousuf Salahuddin, an ex-Politician, and well-known cultural icon, snapped back wondering as to why tourists would come to Lahore.
Trains, he said, had never charmed tourists.
Basant retorted Salahuddin was one such occasion that could bring visitors to this city. We had stopped celebrating that festival recalled Salahuddin
Drawing parallel with India Salahuddin said that in India, the tourist attraction sites were still the Mogul monuments. Hindu heritage or architecture he informed was not as powerful to pull such a large number of tourists to India from across the world. The Moguls he added had made Lahore and Delhi on the same lines. Putting things in perspective, he said there were forts in both the cities and rights across the forts were mosques: Jamia mosque in Delhi and Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. The British took care not to destroy this symmetry, Salahuddin pointed out.
Elaborating on the transportation system of Delhi, he said that the Indians did not disturb the aesthetics of the monuments in that city. No cut and cover technique were used, as has been applied in Lahore, which Salahuddin added, had destroyed the beauty of Data Darbar (shrine). The shrine, he mourned, were now buried behind the pillars of the bridge running in front of the Darbar.
“People will remember Wazir Khan, for creating Bara Deri and Wazir Khan Mosque. They will remember General Jilani, the former Governor Punjab, for building Racecourse Park and other parks in Lahore. I doubt if history will ever allow Shahbaz Sharif to be remembered in kind words because of his offensive approach towards civilization and culture.”
“We need to revive cultural festivals and maintain heritage. I wonder if people would visit Lahore only to view the city atop bridges or from rail tracks,” said Salahuddin.
Experts believe that Lahore after Istanbul is the second Islamic city of the world.
Arguing over this point, the Information Secretary, Lahore Conservation Society, Anwer Ajaz said that the metro busses and the OLMT would destroy the Islamic character of Lahore.
When News Lens Pakistan asked if the civil society was against mega projects, Ajaz said that every city needed mega transport projects but not at the expense of destroying its heritage and culture.
He told News Lens Pakistan that the government had demolished Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan’s home at Nicholson Road without qualm or even taking permission from anyone. He said that developed countries did not allow to touch even the façade of historical places leave alone the entire structure.
Ajaz believes that though Lahore requires a rapid transport system, the need to streamline traffic, he argued, cannot be dispensed with.
“We need efficient bus service system because the OLMT project, in any case, lacks connectivity with other modes of transportation in the city. We need efficient traffic rules to make our roads and transport system user-friendly. We need more footpaths for pedestrians and above all, we need underground railway system. This massive infrastructure will have to be dismantled eventually ten or fifteen years down the road,” said Ajaz.
Concluding his talk Ajaz said that Shahbaz Sharif was suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He said he was after OLMT project only to secure another election victory.