13 May 2014

Lahore Canal Heritage Park under threat

The Lahore Canal is part of the heritage of Lahore and protected by the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Act, 2013.  A meeting of the Advisory Committee of the Heritage Park has been called for 15 May 2014 with three items on the agenda.  All three are infrastructure developments along the Canal.

For more background read here and here.

Here's a copy of the meeting notice:

A copy of the agenda:

And here is my letter to the Chairman of the Advisory Committee:

Saleem, Alam & Company
Lawyers and Consultants
40 Sarwar Colony, Street No. 2, Sarwar Road, Lahore Cantonment, Lahore
Ph: + 92 42 3662 1895; Fax:  042 3662 2051; email: rafay@saleemalam.com
13 May 2014
Parks and Horticulture Authority; and
Chairman, Lahore Canal Heritage Park Advisory Committee
(via email to shakeeldmg@yahoo.com)

Subject: 4th Meeting of the Advisory Committee Constituted Under the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Act, 2013

Dear Chairman of the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Advisory Committee:

I am in receipt of the notice for the captioned Committee meeting called for 15 May 2014.  Unfortunately, I have professional commitments outside Lahore on that date and will be unable to attend.  Due to the serious nature of the agenda proposed for the meeting, I am submitting my written comments as against the agenda points so that they may be circulated amongst other Committee members and recorded as my opinion in the meeting of the Committee.

The proposed agenda for the 4th meeting of the Committee has been circulated as under:

1) Widening of Canal Bank Road from Doctor Hospital to Thokar Niaz Beg
2) Widening of Canal Bank Road from Mall Road to Harbanspura; and
3) Widening of Canal Bank Road from Harbanspura to Jallo.

You will recall that 3rd meeting of the Committee held on 24 October 2013 was convened specifically to consider some TEPA proposals for infrastructure development along the Lahore Canal.  I had taken strong exception to the TEPA proposals and had also pointed out that further meetings of the Committee without properly framed rules of procedure would be improper. 

A draft of the “Lahore Canal Heritage Park (Meetings of Advisory Committee) Rules, 2013” has been submitted to the Committee and the minutes of the 3rd meeting clearly record the decision of the Committee “that these draft rules must be submitted for approval of the Competent Authority within a week’s time” (emphasis added). 

It has been several months since and the Committee has not been informed whether such approval has been obtained and I therefore operate under the assumption that no such approval has been sought or granted.  I again reiterate that, regardless of the subject matter to be discussed by the Committee, the proper way to proceed would be to have these rules notified so that the Committee’s meetings are in accordance with law. 

Convening a meeting of the Committee to discuss infrastructure projects that have serious financial and long-term urban planning repercussions is, in the circumstances, a seriously irregularity that may affect the legal validity of any Committee decision or action.  And to convene a meeting of the Committee without properly establishing rules of procedure or without having first properly demarcating and notifying the Lahore Canal Heritage Park, invites suspicion of a desire on the part of some elements to forcibly have infrastructure developments along the Lahore Canal approved without due process.  I will therefore once again request you, as I have before, to submit the draft rules for approval to the competent authority and, only once approved, convene a meeting of the Committee.

In any event, with regards the agenda items, may I bring to your notice that construction and infrastructure development work have been prohibited with regards the Lahore Canal Heritage Park.  At the outset, therefore, the agenda items are activities that are prohibited under Section 3(5) of the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Act, 2013 (the “Act”).

I will also point out that under the Act, if TEPA is desirous of undertaking infrastructure projects that affect the Heritage Park, it must seek the permission of the Parks and Horticulture Authority (the “PHA”).  Section 5(8) of the Act sets out the various considerations TEPA must respond to if it seeks such permission.  And I note the notice and agenda of the 4th meeting of the Committee do not carry any of the information that is legally required for TEPA to be eligible to make such a request for permission.

If you nevertheless choose to convene the 4th meeting and table the agenda items as proposed, I will further submit that the infrastructure developments proposed by TEPA are unsound on several levels.  The history of the Committee and of the Act is a landmark achievement of law, urban development and civil society.  The Act is a result of a direction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to declare the green belt along the Lahore Canal a heritage park.  Even the preamble of the Act declares the green belts on both sides of the canal a public trust and part of the heritage of the city of Lahore and states that its purpose is the conservation of the Lahore Canal as a heritage park.  Therefore, to expect the Committee, which was established in the light of this history and with a special mandate to protect the heritage of Lahore, to consider and approve the destruction of that heritage is too much to ask.

The powers and functions of the Committee are, inter alia, to prepare and administer the Heritage Park.  But since the Committee’s notification, no effort has been made to follow the directions of the Committee with regards to demarcation of boundary of the Heritage Park and, as discussed above, notify rules of procedure.  The work of the Committee has not yet started in earnest yet it seems it is now being asked to give approval for infrastructure developments that it does not have the power or function to approve and which are, in any event, the very antithesis of its being.

The infrastructure developments proposed by TEPA and to be considered on the agenda are, at best, ad hoc solutions to the traffic problems of Lahore.  Whilst it has spent billions on infrastructure development along the Canal in the previous decade – haphazard development that resulted in a suo motu action and eventually the passage of the Act – the city still lacks a transport master plan.  To expect the Committee to decide on hundreds of millions of Rupees of further infrastructure developments in the absence of a proper master plan and in the face of repeated failures of existing infrastructure to “resolve” traffic congestion is severely misplaced.  The Committee has no evidence to suggest that the proposed traffic infrastructure developments will respond to traffic challenges in the city as none of the previous examples of infrastructure development can be shown to be successful.  Meanwhile, the Act declares the Lahore Canal a heritage park.  How can the Committee be expected to sacrifice the heritage of Lahore to such ad hoc and short-term proposals?  The world over new urban planning practices stress on the need for traffic management, yet the TEPA has not shown any inking of initiative in this area.  Instead, it has proposed the violation of public trust and destruction of heritage.  TEPA should instead be instructed by the Committee to return to the drafting board, so to speak, and reconsider its approach to transport issues in Lahore in a manner that is holistic, sustainable, environmentally friendly, equitable and democratic.

Under the Act, the Committee does have the power to advise the PHA on any matter ancillary to the discharge of its functions under the Act.  It is my belief – and this is the civil society representation I bring to the membership of the Committee – that the Heritage Park cannot be sacrificed in the manner proposed by TEPA and I therefore propose that the Committee resolve to advise the PHA to consider, in addition to the strict requirements of the Act, the history, nature and role of the Lahore Canal as part of the heritage of Lahore before allowing any permission for infrastructure projects to be carried out on it.  The Canal is the heritage of Lahore and needs to be developed so that future generations of Lahoris can also experience the joy and calm it brings to the residents and visitors to the city – a joy and calm they share with one another; a shared memory map that connects Lahoris to their city, to their past and to their culture.  And this cultural heritage should be protected and promoted by the Committee.

I conclude with the opening lines of the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s judgment in the Lahore Bachao Case (2011 SCMO 1743), in which Mr. Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani (now Chief Justice of Pakistan) quotes Ada Louise Huxtable:

Any city gets what it admires and what it pays for and ultimately deserves.  And we will probably be judged not for the monuments we build but the monuments we destroy.

With best regards.

Very truly yours,

Ahmad Rafay Alam
Canal Heritage Park Advisory Committee

Copies to:
- PHA (via email to pha@wol.net.pk)


Anonymous said...

Bravo Mr. Alam,
It is due to the efforts of the citizens of Lahore, yourself included and the Lahore Bachao Tehreek, that we are able to stand a proud civil society aimed at promoting the shared interests of our beautiful city.
I thank you, and urge that you keep fighting to hold the identity of the city intact for the citizens and the generations to come after.
Do not let them destroy the intrinsic values and identities of our home.

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