The apex court finally gave a green signal for the Orange Line Metro Train project to proceed to its completion. The main objections raised by the detractors of the project were essentially on two counts. First, the project could cause damage to the heritage sites near its route and second, the amount involved in the project could have been utilised better than developing the train network. The 22-month long delay cost the national exchequer Rs50 billion — whopping loss for a poor nation.
The Supreme Court allowed the project to proceed on certain conditions. The project would be closely monitored for its vibration level. If it crossed the safe limits and the observers thought it could threaten the heritage sites, the project would be suspended. The heritage sites include Shalimar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu Ka Awa, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s Tomb, Lakshmi Building, General Post Office, Aiwan-e-Auqaf, the Supreme Court’s Lahore registry building, St Andrews Presbyterian Church on Nabha Road and Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari shrine.
Have the lovers of heritage sites ever raised their voice at the dilapidated state of these sites? The neglect that the historic monuments suffer is visible to all who care to observe. For instance, Chauburji and some tombs don’t present an edifying scene as junkies and riffraff usually inhabit these sites. But the civil society activists, instead of pointing out the neglect the heritage sites suffer from, lament that more importance has been given to developing modern infrastructure for transportation over maintaining these sites. The critics had better given priority to meet the requirement of transportation of the burgeoning population of the urban centres over the historical sites.
The problem is that the civil society activists and environmentalists, critical of development projects like Metro train and earlier the Metro Bus service, belong to upper layer of the society. They own expensive cars and usually don’t drive themselves but are driven around in style. The Metro Bus and Orange Line train services cater to the travelling requirement of the lower segment of the society. Those who criticised the Metro Bus service and deridingly called it ‘jangla bus’ should now see how these buses swish along fully occupied, which shows the facility is being utilised to its carrying capacity. The rich and snobby should empathise with the commoners who face the daily ordeal of commuting back and forth from home to their place of work.
We should give the Punjab government credit where it deserves. For instance, Lahore-Multan motorway would be inaugurated in April 2018, four months before its stipulated time of completion. Thereafter, Peshawar would be connected with Multan by a motorway network. Simultaneously, development work on road between District Muzaffargarh to Ghazi Ghat Bridge over river Indus is underway round the clock. Once Lahore-Multan motorway completes, travel time from Lahore to far-flung District Dera Ghazi Khan will reduce from eight hours to merely five hours. The feeling of deprivation of the backward districts would be somewhat assuaged.
Similarly, Multan road from Thokar Niaz Baig to Hudiara Drain, a distance of about 10.7km is being developed into eight lanes, four lanes each for entering and exiting the provincial capital. Negotiating this short distance has always been arduous for all kind of traffic, especially the motorists trailing behind long-body oil containers, buses and trucks. Somehow driving into or out of our large cities has never been hassle free. Be it Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi or Peshawar.
Critics of Orange train and other development projects say the government is undertaking new ventures to win votes in the next elections. Aiming to win votes by developing projects that benefit the public at large is a good strategy. Had the PPP evolved this strategy in its last tenure in power, it wouldn’t have been washed out in 2013 elections. After all, when American, British and German ambassadors commend CM Punjab for his commitment to work, he must possess some qualities to deserve the praise. Imran Khan would do well to emulate Shehbaz Sharif’s passion for development, instead of calling him showbaz. Khan has frittered away the opportunity to act showbaz in K-P and develop it like Punjab. The nation needs more action less theatrics.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2017.
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