ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday ignored a request for suspending the Aug 19 judgement of the Lahore High Court of halting construction on an ambitious Rs45 billion Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) but referred the Punjab government challenge against the order to one of its larger benches for hearing.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, had taken up a set of four separate but identical petitions moved by the Punjab government, Lahore Development Authority, the Punjab Mass Transit Authority and the National Engineering Services Pakistan (Nespak) against the high court’s suspension of the construction work within 200 feet of 11 heritage sites. The order came on a petition of a civil society activist Kamil Khan Mumtaz.
The heritage sites include Shalamar Gardens, Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu ka Awa, Chauburji, Zebunnisa’s Tomb, Lakshmi Building, General Post Office, Aiwan-i-Auqaf, Supreme Court’s Lahore registry building, St Andrews Presbyterian Church at Nabha Road and Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari’s Shrine.
While referring the matter to a five-judge larger bench, the chief justice observed that the court would decide the matter after examining it thoroughly.
The larger bench will commence hearing on the matter from Oct 10.
In a joint application submitted by senior counsel Khawaja Haris, the petitioners had pleaded before the Supreme Court that the contracts for the construction of civil works of the OLMT was time bound, therefore, their completion within the stipulated time was essential.
The scope of civil works involves construction of a metro train corridor (27.1km long), including an elevated U-shaped viaduct (25.4km), underground section (1.72km), 26 stations (24 elevated ad 2 underground), depots and stabling yards, the petition explained, adding that under the commercial contract the provincial government and its agencies were under obligation to hand over the civil works to the Chinese contractor within 10 months of the commencement date of the contract.
In case of failure, the Chinese contractor will be entitled to recover liquidated damages at the rate of 0.02 per cent of the contract price of the civil works, the petition argued.
The OLMT is being financed by Chinese Exim Bank and the smooth and continuing availability of these funds is dependent upon timely completion of the various stages of the project, the petition highlighted, adding that delay in the completion of the civil works will not only result in considerable increase in the cost of the project, it is likely to frustrate the entire project.
Besides, the sum of Rs26.8 billion of public money already spent on the civil works will go waste, pleaded the petition. It said it was thus evident that the general public and the provincial government would suffer heavily if the high court judgement was not suspended.
The main petition has argued that Lahore being the second largest urban centre in Pakistan, with current estimates projecting a population of more than 10 million, suffers routinely from extreme congestion, long commute times, choking air pollution, deadly traffic accidents and inadequate public transport.
According to it, existing roads and flyovers cannot fully redress congestion and transportation overload. Mass transit systems are necessary for mobility needs of general public and for solving the problem of pollution. The transportation is one of the most significant contributors to climate change, accounting for 25 per cent of global emissions in absence of effective mass transit schemes.