By Khalid Hasnain
Serious concerns expressed recently by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) show the Punjab government did not take it on board prior to launching development project/scheme — particularly at the stretch passing along the Shalamar Gardens that is on the list of world heritage list.
The issue regarding possible danger to some protected/heritage sites came into limelight after construction/civil work for the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train Project was launched formally on 27.1km route from Dera Gujran to Ali Town. After start of construction work, the matter pertaining to safety/protection of the heritage properties — mainly the Shalamar Gardens, GPO and Chauburji appeared to be most important one.
However, the civil society organisations finally decided to write to Unesco to directly intervene in the matter and make efforts to get the civil work stopped by the project implementing agencies. Unesco took quick action and wrote a letter to its representatives in the Pakistan National Commission for Unesco to take up the issue with the Punjab government and halt the work in front of the Shalamar Gardens.
It may be mentioned that the Shalamar Gardens and Lahore Fort are mentioned as one unit/single heritage site in the Unesco’s list of world heritage properties.
“The World Heritage Centre (cultural division of Unesco) has received a series of reports expressing concerns for the state of conservation of Shalamar Gardens due to urban development project being implemented in Lahore by the government of Punjab, in particular to the proposed track of the metro line that passes by near the World Heritage Property,” reads a letter written by Mechtilf Rossier (director World Heritage Centre, Unesco, Paris) on Oct 29 to Ghalib Iqbal, ambassador, permanent delegate of Pakistan to Unseco.
“As you know that the Fort-Shalamar Gardens in Lahore was removed in 2012 from the world heritage list in danger, the WHC, therefore, received this piece of information with utmost importance. The above-mentioned project might result in more serious and irreversible damage to the property and its outstanding universal value for which it was inscribed on the world heritage list in 1981,” it states.
The letter advises the Unesco Pakistan-based authorities to get details of the project in line with the provisions of paragraph-172 of the operational guidelines for the implementation of the world heritage convention, which reads: “The world heritage committee invites the states parties to the convention to inform the committee, through the secretariat, of their attention to undertake or to authorize in an area protected under the convention major restorations or new constructions that may affect the outstanding universal value of property. Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the outstanding value of the property is fully preserved”
“Should the project has already been going on, I would like to recommend that the portion of the project in vicinity of the world heritage property be halted as soon as possible until the advisory bodies have reviewed the submitted relevant information and an evaluation on the proposed metro line has been made,” the Unesco director demands in the letter.
Now the question arises that why the Punjab government didn’t take Unesco on board while making the plan or before launching the civil work for the project. Therefore, the government should at least now take Unesco on board in order to have its assistance for passing the metro line as well as protecting Shalamar Gardens through various solutions/options.