The Supreme Court has asked the Lahore Bachao Tehreek to suggest green alternatives to a road-widening project to ease traffic problems on Canal Bank Road, while indicating that it sees the project as important for city residents.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was conducting proceedings in a suo motu case and on various petitions challenging a government plan to widen a 3.5-km stretch of the road from Thokar Niaz Beg to Harbanspura.
The court directed Dr Pervez Hassan, who is mediating between the Punjab government and the Tehreek on the matter, to ensure he attends the next hearing on August 15 to answer objections raised by LBT members to a report on the project, produced by a seven-member committee that Dr Hassan set up.
Imrana Tiwana, convener of the LBT and secretary of the Lahore Conservation Society, said the seven-member committee should have been made up of experts on urban planning, engineering and the environment, but instead consisted mostly of government supporters. These included former minister Sartaj Aziz, PML-Nawaz MNA Ayaz Sadiq, the Lahore commissioner and Abid Sulehri. “How can they give recommendations against the government?” she said. She said that the canal and the trees on its banks should be declared an urban heritage park area.
Another LBT representative argued that widening the road would not solve the traffic problems on the road, merely delay them. “After six months the same level of traffic will return,” he said, adding that the congestion was due to the faulty design of the underpasses.
Faryal Ali Gohar said global warming was having a devastating effect on Pakistan’s environment and chopping down trees would only accelerate the problem. She said that development should benefit the many and not just the few who drove cars.
Tiwana also objected that the government had allocated funds for the project when it had been challenged in court. She said the money allocated was enough to buy 1,260 buses. It could also be better used to build footpaths and slow lanes. She said that Rs10 billion had been spent on 11 underpasses in Lahore and the money had been wasted.
Justice Saqib Nisar remarked that the congestion on Canal Bank Road affected students and people who worked in offices, not just rich people. He also noted that Canal Bank Road had made possible the construction of several residential schemes, and not just high-incomes ones, but ones for the poor too.
The bench asked the counsel for the Punjab government how many trees would be chopped down for the widening of the road. He replied that they would cut 60 trees and plant alternative trees elsewhere.
The chief justice observed that the judges were all concerned about the environment and asked the Tehreek to come up with “some amicable solutions” at the next hearing. Several NGO representatives and National College of Arts students attended the proceedings.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2011.
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