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Pakistan

Churches join opposition to Lahore's new train network

Metro displaces communities and threatens historical buildings, critics say

Churches join opposition to Lahore's new train network

Christians from the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf party protest the construction of the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry)

Church groups have joined opposition to the building of a train network in Lahore, which they said threatens to displace poor neighborhoods and damage buildings of cultural importance.

"At least four churches will be affected. One of them might be completely demolished," said Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director from the Catholic bishop's National Commission for Justice and Peace.

"The heritage of our city is at stake and the marginalized community is taking a hit," he said while attending a Feb. 2 rally in Lahore that opposed the construction of the Orange Line Metro Train in the city.

"The vibrations will ruin centuries old structures, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites," Chaudhry added.

Emanuel S. Khokhar, a minister from the Central Cathedral of Praying Hands, said a mass rapid transit train system was not necessary.

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"The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party has already initiated a bus rapid transit system," he said. 

"More than 10,000 families will be displaced," he said. "There are other pressing issues ... People do not have basic utilities."

The staff at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church have been concerned since the building was visited by Lahore Development Authority officials in November.

Erected in 1860, St. Andrew's is a place of worship for about 250 families. Its minister, the Rev. Hanook Haque said the train project is "like a sword of Damocles for us."

The officials told him that the train will be passing directly under the church's lawn.

"The building will be spared but we are still concerned; the vibrations might harm its foundations," he said.

Metro train project construction at the decades old Lakshmi intersection. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry)

With a budget of 300 billion rupees (US$24 million , the metro project has been under constant criticism from legal experts, civic groups, opposition parties and human rights organizations.

The United Nations has also urged the government to halt the proposed route length of 27 kilometers. The project passes through the historic center of Lahore, threatening historic buildings, minority places of worship, tombs and shrines, said the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune in a statement.

The Lahore High Court ordered authorities to halt work within 200-feet radius of heritage sites and have issued a contempt of court notice to Lahore Development Authority for non-compliance of the order.

The court said the government cannot shirk its responsibility to protect heritage, cultural and archaeological sites.

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