Road to progress

Published: November 15, 2012
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The writer is the vice-president of the Pakistan Environmental Law Association and also is chairman of Lesco. The views expressed in this article are his own

The writer is the vice-president of the Pakistan Environmental Law Association and also is chairman of Lesco. The views expressed in this article are his own

Two events will have an effect on Lahore and Lahoris. The first is the proposal to rename a roundabout in Shadman after the anti-imperialist freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. The other proposal is the tabling by the Punjab government of the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Bill, 2012 before this session of the Punjab Assembly. Both events are examples of hard work by Lahore’s vibrant civil society in ensuring its voice is heard in the planning and management of its city.

However, the outcomes of both events are uncertain. The Dilkash Lahore Committee — established by the City District Government Lahore (CDGL) to recommend listing heritage sites and renaming the city’s roads, intersections, etc — has recommended changing the name of Fawwara Chowk in Shadman to Bhagat Singh Chowk. However, there are rumours that some people oppose the decision to rename a Pakistani road after a non-Muslim.

Some years ago, civil society from leftist organisations reclaimed Shadman’s Fawwara Chowk in the name of Bhagat Singh to honour him for his sacrifices in pre-Partition India’s struggle against imperialism and colonialism. Civil society has since celebrated his death anniversary and enriched the city’s urban experience by introducing into it a discourse that recognises a Lahori character broader, deeper and older than its existence under this Islamic Republic. One hopes the CDGL will be able to resist any opposition to recognising an anti-imperialist freedom fighter.

The tabling of the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Bill, 2012 is in pursuance of last year’s Supreme Court decision in the Lahore Canal Widening Case. The Court resolved a five-year stand-off between the Government of Punjab, which wanted to widen Lahore Canal Road ostensibly to improve congestion and the Lahore Bachao Tehreek, another civil society organisation that argued that such widening would be harmful to the city’s beauty and natural environment, worsen traffic and be a massive misallocation of resources. The Court had set precedent by constituting a mediation committee that, after public consultation, made 18 recommendations that were adopted by the Court. While conceding the need to widen seven of the proposed 14 kilometres of road, the Mediation Committee stipulated certain measures the Punjab government had to take to ensure proper and sustainable urban planning in the city. One of these steps was to protect the Court’s declaration that the green belt along the Lahore Canal was a “public trust” by enacting appropriate legislation. The Bill, if passed, is that legislation and will certainly be Pakistan’s first law declaring an urban park. Nevertheless, the Bill leaves much to be desired as it still allows the Punjab government the power to determine what parts of the green belt are protected as a park. Some fear that a few years from now, the government could undo the entire purpose and function of the Lahore Bachao Tehreek and Court judgment by simply de-notifying the urban park and widening Canal Road.

These fears appear confirmed by the fact that in September, the Punjab government filed an application before the Supreme Court seeking permission to go ahead with the widening of the entire stretch of the Lahore Canal road from the BRB Canal to Thokar Niaz Beg. The Lahore Bachao Tehreek, now represented by Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, has taken a strong stand against this application, as has Dr Parvez Hassan, the mediator appointed by the Supreme Court. They argue that the Supreme Court’s decision last year was in the nature of a compromise with both the Government of Punjab and the Lahore Bachao Tehreek conceding some ground in return for commitments to improve the urban planning of the city. They argue that the government’s recent application is an attempt to go behind this solemn pact and that even if the government had complied with all 18 of the Mediation Committee’s recommendations, it would still not be permitted to alter the nature of the urban park.

Both these events demonstrate the immense power of civil society in Lahore’s urban planning and its potential in other cities. The efforts of the people, who have sought to participate in the decision-making of this city, is laudable (the Supreme Court has been especially generous in its praise of Lahore’s civil society). But these organisations also know that the gods are fickle and that they must remain constantly engaged in the city’s life. They need support and appreciation. It adds fuel to their fire.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Nov 16, 2012 - 5:28PM

    I am pro Tress & Nature person but have serious reservations for Lahore Bachao Tehreek & Lahore Conservation Society stance. The agree to the recommendations of mediation committee. They accepted the widening the Canal Bank Road from Mall Road Under Pass to Doctors Hospital but when it comes to Low income ares of Mughalpura, Lal Pul & Herbancepura their love for nature suddenly Flourishes. Why people of these low income area suffer. There are two Railway crossing form Royal Palm to Mughalpura Underpass. Distance of 500 meter normally took 15-20 mints daily in rush hours of morning & evening. Insane.

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  • wonderer
    Nov 16, 2012 - 5:42PM

    The move to name a chowk in Lahore after Bhagat Singh is opposed by Friends of Bhagat Singh Society in India. Please desist from doing that for the sake of peace.

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  • Shahzad
    Nov 16, 2012 - 7:18PM

    @wonderer:
    May I ask why?

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  • wonderer
    Nov 16, 2012 - 8:26PM

    @Shahzad:

    Here Sir, are the reasons in brief:

    There is no doubt that Pakistan has some admirers of Bhagat Singh, but those who are hostile towards him are probably in much larger numbers. The friends of Bhagat Singh are worried about that fringe elements, also called “non-state actors” by the Government of Pakistan, who may decide to humiliate Bhagat Singh’s memory at some time in future just because he was not a Muslim, and thus a Kafir. It would be quite in the realm of possibility if some lunatic does such a thing just to demonstrate his hatred for “Hindu India”. The fears of such a possibility get enhanced immensely when we see the desecration/destruction of the Mazars of revered Sufi saints of the “land-of-the-pure”. Some voices against the move are already being heard, and the reason advanced is that he is not Muslim.

    In case some such feared incident does take place it will be another hurdle in Indo-Pak relations and friendship.

    Making a memorial also entails its protection. Considering what is going on in Lahore and Karachi on a daily basis, the law enforcement authorities of Pakistan will not be able to handle the extra responsibility.

    If you must rename the Fawara Chowk in Shadman it would be more advisable to name it after any one of Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid or even Waris Shah.

    Kindly leave Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh alone for the sake of peace.

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  • TJ
    Nov 16, 2012 - 9:30PM

    Pakistan has HAD a rich culture. Punjab, Lahore are vibrant spaces. Suffocating these spaces in the name of religion is pathertic, sad and absurd. There is a mosque on every street of Pakistan! But actually they are notttt needed in every corner, yet we sit and watch as the numbers grow. A street in Gulberg has three mosques, each is half empty as people get divided. Anyway, the point here is that Lahore breath like an ancient city, a city that is full of historical sites. Let it be what it deserves to be. I applaud the naming of the chowk on Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh fought for his nation. Pakistan is part of that nation geographically, historically and emotionally. Accept it like you accept many other insane things around you. Pre-partition heros are OURS.

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  • TJ
    Nov 16, 2012 - 9:37PM

    Punjab, Sindh, Baochistan, Khyber Pakhutnkhwa, Lahore, Karachi Islamabad EXISTED before 14 August 1947!!!!! If a group of lunatics shame history and sense by disregarding this fact, then I am sorry, I am not going to stop talking sense. And they HATES Sufis, then we’ll give up our Sufi heritage too! There is no end to it my friend. Let it be named after Bhagat Singh. Let common sense, and tolerance prevail. Let Lahore be named after its heros.

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  • wonderer
    Nov 17, 2012 - 7:06AM

    @TJ:

    Your point of view is understood and appreciated. There would be no worries if “a group of lunatics” was not so large and powerful. It would be advisable to wait till the likes of Hafiz Saeed and Gen. Hamid Gul agree even if the gang led by Laal Topi Zaid Hameed can be ignored.

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