In the absence of an elected local government, the initiation, approval and execution of a signal free corridor between Qurtaba Chowk on Jail Road and Liberty Roundabout on Gulberg’s Main Boulevard by the Lahore Development Authority is valid, observed the Supreme Court in a short order on Wednesday.
However, the short order asked the LDA to ensure provision of additional facilities like road crossings at a distance of a kilometre or less along the corridor for pedestrians. It also set aside action sought by Lahore High Court against some LDA officials and expunged the remarks about LDA’s counsel Khawaja Haris.
Additionally, the LDA was directed to undertake new projects only after consultation with an elected local government.
Wednesday’s short order stated that in the absence of elected local governments, the provincial government had been looking after their respective functions through its various agencies. It stated that the project had been conceived by the LDA in 2014 and funds were allocated for the purpose in the authority’s budget for 2014-15. It said the contract for the construction of the corridor was awarded on February 19, 2015 and added that Rs60 million spent on construction before the LHC’s interim order was issued on March 6, 2015.
The order stated that under Article 140A of the Constitution the provinces were required to devolve political, administrative and financial powers to elected local governments. “It is the duty of a province to empower local governments under Article 140A of the Constitution,” it said.
It said the LDA had assumed the power to develop master plans for the city in the absence of an elected local government.
Referring to the LHC detailed judgement, the order stated that a statute could not be struck down on the basis of academic expositions on principles of subsidiarity and federalism alone. It said the only criteria for this purpose should be conflict between the statutory law and provisions of the Constitution. “Consequently, the grounds adopted [for striking down sections of the Lahore Development Authority Act of 1975] by the impugned judgment are rejected,” it stated.
The order observed that under Section 5(6) of the Punjab Environmental Protection Act of 1997 the provincial government was required to set up an advisory committee to assist the Environmental Protection Agency in evaluating the environmental impact of development projects. It said the provincial government had violated its statutory duty by not constituting such a committee.
The order said that respondents had failed to highlight any objection to the EIA report that was not taken into consideration by the executing agency. Additionally, it said that the court had not evaluated on merit objections to the EIA report. Moreover, the order said that the right of appeal and remedies on merits of the EIA approval available under the PEPA 1997 had not been availed by the respondents. It observed that the EIA report could not be struck down upon mere presumption or apprehension.
In its March 17 order, the LHC had declared null and void the signal free corridor project and stopped the LDA from proceeding with it in the absence of an elected local government.
The provincial government and the LDA had challenged the LHC verdict in the Supreme Court through their counsel, Khawaja Haris, Makhdoom Ali Khan and Shahid Hamid. Salman Akram Raja had represented Imrana Tiwana and others.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2015.