LAHORE: Archaeology Department Director Saleemul Haq revealed on Thursday that final plans of the Orange Line Metro Train project had not been shared with the department to ensure that sites of historical interest were not affected by the initiative.
Haq said according to public reports Shalimar Gardens and Chauburji were the two major historical sites falling on the route of the train. He said smaller heritage sites in the vicinity of Grand Trunk Road could also be affected by the project. “We cannot be certain till concrete information is officially shared with us,” Haq said.
He said construction was prohibited within a distance of 200 feet from such sites in accordance with Clause 22 of the Antiquities Act. Haq said very little could be done to prevent damage to sites during the project’s construction despite this. He said the department was also not cognisant of whether the track of the train would be elevated or not. “The construction of an elevated track would compromise the beauty of the sites,” Haq remarked. He said an underground track would be a better option in this regard. “Nevertheless, such an initiative is contingent on terrain and soil variety. Therefore, it cannot be said for certain whether this would be a viable solution,” Haq said.
Deputy Director Afzal Khan told The Express Tribune said a letter had been addressed to the chief secretary urging the department to be consulted following the initiation of construction, especially in the vicinity of heritage sites. He said the department had not been taken into confidence despite receiving assurances from the chief secretary to this effect in his reply.
Khalid Alvi of the Traffic Engineering and Transport Planning Authority (TEPA), who is also the chief engineer of the project, said steps had been taken to ensure that the route bypassed the Chauburji. He said a 30-feet-high elevated track would be constructed in the centre of Shalimar Road and GT Road to ensure that monuments in the area were not affected by the project.
Alvi said minimum construction would be ensured in the area. He said with the exception of the foundation, other structures and materials including pillars would be cast elsewhere. “These will be later moved to the project’s construction site in a bid to avoid inconveniencing the people and causing pollution,” Alvi said. He said state-of-the-art technology was being used to streamline the process.
Pakistan Heritage Foundation founder Yasmeen Lari said the government did not take heritage sites into account when it formulated development plans. She said the Azadi Chowk Interchange near Lahore Fort had wreaked havoc on the vista of the site from the road. Lari said an elevated track in the vicinity of Shalimar Gardens would do the same. She said construction and development in the vicinity of heritage sites had to be compatible and not higher from them. Lari said this was an internationally accepted norm. She said any development work in an area of great historical significance required meticulous planning that took into account a myriad of options that were deduced after studying the condition of monuments.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2015.