Development projects preferred by the PML-N government are usually huge undertakings. From motorways to metro bus lines, they are expensive, time-consuming and require various sacrifices from local populations. For many, this amounts to stoically bearing the inconveniences caused by roadblocks. But for those whose property stands in the way of development, it is a different story. They are often forced to give up their land holdings for the greater good. This situation is currently being faced by four churches in Lahore, which will be affected by the Orange Line Metro Train project. These churches, whose buildings are part of Lahore’s rich heritage, are important to their communities. Not only are they places of worship, their grounds also serve as gathering places for social activities.
The authorities’ plans of using church land during construction of the project have caused consternation amongst the administrations of the churches. Although church officials have been told that the land will be restored to its original condition after construction is completed, there are still concerns about the disruption that will be caused. Church administrations have taken up the matter with the authorities and demanded that their concerns be addressed before the land is yielded for the Orange Line. In view of the spotty track record of project managers in Pakistan when it comes to leaving the surrounding area unscathed during and after construction work, the concerns raised by the churches are wholly justified. Minority communities in Pakistan rarely feel like their voices are heard. This makes it increasingly important that the government handles this issue immediately and with care. While large-scale projects may require changes to be made to their surroundings, when it comes to land of historic, religious and communal value, the government must display more than the usual amount of sensitivity and develop concrete plans to ensure minimal disruption and adequate restoration.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2016.
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