Supreme Court dismisses LHC order, clears tracks for Orange Line Metro Train

LAHORE: The Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed the decision of the Lahore High Court (LHC) halting work on selected sites of the Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) project.

The court accepted the appeal of the Punjab government and others against the LHC decision with conditions and ruled by a 4-1 judgment that it observed no illegalities in the multi-billion rupee project.

A five-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, had reserved its verdict in the case on April 17 this year.
The bench included Justices Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Maqbool Baqar, Ijaul Ahsan and Mazhar Alam Miankhel.

Justice Ahsan read out the verdict whereas Justice Baqar wrote a dissenting note.

Although the apex court has allowed the Punjab government to go ahead with the project at the same speed, the bench has set 31 conditions to ensure the project’s transparency.

The apex court has also ordered the formation of a five-member technical committee, with overarching authority, for a year.

The committee will include experts from the archaeology department as well as a former Supreme Court justice. It will present its recommendations to the chief minister.

Welcoming the decision, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif said the “people [have] won [today] over the vested interests…All efforts & energies to be employed to complete this mega public welfare project as early as possible InshaAllah!..”

Legal course

The proceedings regarding the project had begun in the Supreme Court after the Punjab government and others had appealed the LHC verdict ordering partial halting of construction as it was damaging ancient heritage sites of the provincial capital.

The LHC in August 2016 had ordered the suspension of construction on the $1.6 billion OLMT within 200 feet of 11 historical sites in the city to save them from damage.

The historical monuments include the Shalimar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s Tomb, Lakshmi Building and the General Post Office. These heritage sites are protected under the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance, 1985 and Antiquity Act, 1975.

The $1.6 billion project

Launched in May 2014 by Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, in collaboration with a Chinese company, the project is set to be the country’s first metro line, but it got embroiled in a legal battle in LHC which ordered a stay on several sites as the development was trampling over heritage sites in Lahore.

A single train within the 27-kilometre rail line has the capacity to carry 1,000 people, out of which 200 can be seated while 800 can commute while standing.

The project, which was included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor earlier in the year, is expected to run on electricity and transport up to 250,000 passengers a day.

The capacity is set to be increased to 500,000 passengers by 2025.

The original deadline for the project was December 25, 2017.