The civil society gave the Punjab government a piece of its mind for `insulting` Pakistan during 41st Unesco`s World Heritage Committee (WHC) session on July 8 in Poland by not inviting the Reactive Monitoring Mission to visit the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train Project (Shalamar Gardens section) on the pretext of case`s proceedings in the Supreme Court, and not submitting the Visual Impact Assessment report of the scheme to the committee.
It also deplores what it says the continuous lie on the part of the Punjab government officials and concealing the facts as narrated in July 10 letter written by Unesco`s culture sector to the Lahore Conservation Society.
`Actually, the Punjab government`s representatives in the 40th WHC session held in Istanbul (Turkey) last year were assigned to invite the mission members to Pakistan so that they could visit the project site and give recommendations. Similarly, they were also asked to submit the scheme`s Visual Impact Assessment report tothequartersconcernedbutthey delayed it and wrongly claimed that the WHC in its 41st session held in Poland had allowed the metro train project construction along Shalamar Gardens,` Mr L A. Rehman told reporters at the Lahore Press Club.
He said the government should have issued visas to Unesco experts rather than employing delaying tactics. `The heritage is an asset of our generations and we all are duty-bound to protect it by all means,` Mr Rehman said.
He said the civil society was not at all against development; it wanted that the government should have launched and accomplished it not at the cost of heritage and thousands of peoples`livelihood. `The government forcibly acquired and demolished the houses and properties of thousands of people without giving them handsome compensation, he said.
Khwaja Ahmed Hassaan, chairman of the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train steering committee, insists that the government has effectively pleaded the case as a result of which the WHC accepted its stance.
Lahore Bachao Tehreek convener Ms Imrana Tiwana said she was also present in the 41st session of Unesco`s WHC and witnessed how the state embarrassed Pakistan after it failed to invite the mission despite the fact that its members had applied for visas. `I have just returned from Krakow, Poland where I was invited to represent the Lahore Conservation Society (being its general secretary) and the Citizens of Pakistan to speak at the session. We were distressed and shocked at the misrepresentation of facts by the 15-member Pakistan state party delegation at the Unesco, an international organisation recognised as the highest authority for the protection of world heritage,` she said.
`The state is a custodian of the law and must uphold the Constitution of the country and rights of its citizens. It is a sacred trust which is to be respected and not abused at the expense of the people of this country,` she said.
She said Unesco in its draft report this year recommended that the Lahore Fort and Shalamar Gardens be put on the world heritage in danger list, urging the state party to immediately suspend without delay any further work in the immediate vicinity of Shalamar Gardens. It also requested the state to identify an alternative location for the project.
It regretted, she said, that the mission was not invited as requested by Unesco`s WHC.
`The report also expressed utmost concern over the NOC issued by Punjab`s archaeology department for Orange Line, regretting that Pakistan has not complied with the requests made by the committee,` Ms Tiwana added.
Mr Tehseen Ahmad (convener, Pakistan Civil Society Forum), senior lawyer Mirza Mehmood, Saima Amir and others also spoke.
The civil society said the letter written by Unesco to it had revealed the facts the Punjab government officials tried to conceal.
According to the letter of July 10 addressed to Mr Kamil Khan Mumtaz of the Lahore Conservation Society by Mechtild Rossler (Director, WHC), the 41st session of the committee considered it appropriate to provide an additional year to invite the requested mission and to complete the assessment report/study, taking into account the assurance of the state party to do its best tocooperate and comply with the decisions made by the WHC.
It states that the 41st session decided to grant one more year to the state party of Pakistan in complying with the requests made by the 40th session prior to any decision to inscribe the Fort and Shalamar Gardens of Lahore, World Heritage Property, on the list of world heritage in danger.
`Please note that the state party was unable to invite the mission requested by the 40th session due to the pending case in the Supreme Court and due to the fact that the requested study is still to be finalised.
`In the light of this, please be informed that the adopted decision of the 40th session of the committee expressing its serious concern about the development of the orange line and requesting the state party to prepare a visual impact study of the project be presented to the WHC and the advisory bodies before pursuing the works of the project associated with the Shalamar Gardens remains valid,` the letter reads.
Meanwhile, a press release issued by the civil society described the government`s claim of being allowed by Unesco to start the work on Orange Line as false and baseless. `The Government of the Punjab has informed the press that UNESCO has endorsed Punjab government`s stance over passing of Orange Line Metro Train near heritage buildings in Lahore and that international experts have agreed that the project will not affect the heritage of Lahore. This is factually incorrect,` reads the press release.
Actually, the release says, the WHC amended its draft decision 2017 on Shalamar Gardens and the project during the 41st committee session and decided to give Pakistan state party one more year to comply with the decisions of the WHC 2016, i.e to invite the monitoring mission and submit studies pertaining to the Shalamar Gardens and the impact of the train project, prior to deciding whether to place the Fort and Shalamar Gardens on `danger list`.
`The World Heritage Centre/UNESCO has clarified its position in letters of July 10 and 12 addressed to over 60 human and cultural rights organisations in Pakistan. In these letters, the WHC has clearly stated that the decisions adopted in the 40th session are still valid.
APP adds: Khwaja Ahmed Hassaan told media persons at his office that as a result of effective presentation of technical data, Heritage Impact Assessment report, vibration reportand other relevant research studies abour the train project, the 21 members of the WHC accepted Pakistan`s stance on the project and scrapped the proposal for putting Shalamar Gardens on the list of `World Heritage in Danger` during its 41st session.
He was speaking after chairing a weekly progress review meeting about the project. The meeting was informed that 72pc of civil work on the project had been completed.