LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has banned the construction of Orange Line Metro Train Project within 200 feet (61 metres) of historic buildings in the city of Lahore. A division bench of the LHC comprising Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and Justice Shahid Karim announced its decision on Friday on petitions regarding the protection of the 11 heritage sites that could possibly be hit by the country’s first rapid mass transit system. The court was assisted in this case by Supreme Court Bar Association President Syed Ali Zafar who said that while it was the right of the government to construct and develop public infrastructure and courts did not interfere in policy matters, but the development always needs to be sustainable. He added that whenever the government starts an urban development project, it needs to ensure that any protected site would not be harmed as a result of the project. A lawyer and petitioner in the case Azhar Siddique said, “We are very much concerned about heritage in the city. The court has accepted our arguments and ordered construction to stop.” The decision comes as a victory for the heritage campaigners. There was a severe outcry to stop the possible damage to the heritage and environment. People belonging to all factions of the society had raised voice and concerns regarding this project of the government. The campaigners had argued that the Chinese-funded metro project, most of which will be elevated, would endanger sites including the Mughal Fort, the Shalimar Gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a nineteenth century British-built church and the Victorian-era General Post Office. They had also contended that the awarding of the project lacked transparency and was not done in consultation with residents. A second petition challenging the process had also been filed for this reason. Journalist Hassan Naqvi did a detailed analysis on the possible repercussions of the project whose track was to start from Ali Town, passing through Thokar Niaz Baig, Bund Road, Chauburji, Anarkali, Lakshmi Chowk, Railway Station, University of Engineering and Technology, Shalimar Gardens, Islam Park and will terminate at Dera Gujran. He wrote, “According to heritage experts, at least 26 historical and protected monuments, including Shalamar Gardens, General Post Office, Supreme Court-Lahore Registry, Lahore High Court, Mauj Darya Shrine and Chauburji will be affected by the project.” The decision given on Friday had been reserved on July 14 by the division bench and it also upholds an earlier decision taken in January. However, the court declared that environmental approvals that the petitioners had said should be cancelled were valid, thereby allowing construction more than 200 feet from protected monuments to proceed. No comments have come so far from the project managers regarding the impacts of this decision on construction. While public transport is in desperately short supply in Pakistan and the government hopes the metro will ease travel in one of the country’s fastest-growing cities, there is an obvious need to develop infrastructure effectively integrated with the existing transport system and accounting for the costs and ramifications on the city as well. The project’s construction began last year and has led to forced evictions and threatened protected sites and minority places of worship, the United Nations said. The route of the line, however, had puzzled many experts who are of the opinion that there were far less damaging alternative routes available but were not considered.