LAHORE, July 18: The government’s commercialisation of the entire Walled City of Lahore and over 50 other major roads and residential areas of the city was challenged in the Lahore High Court on Monday, with Justice Asad Munir issuing notices to the Lahore DCO and other concerned officials and departments to explain this “amazing decision” within the ambit of the law and its recommended procedures.

The pre-admission notices were issued after a renowned Lahore journalist and columnist, Majid Sheikh, moved the court to stay the ‘commercialisation’ as it was “contrary to the interests of the culture and heritage of the people and city of Lahore”.

The counsel for the respondent, Rafay Alam, explained that there seemed to be no law, or rules, or procedures that were being
followed by the Lahore Development Authority and the City District Government of Lahore when commercialisation was declared.

“It is amazing that an entire city – the Walled City of Lahore – has been declared ‘commercialised’ without even an environmental impact assessment.”

Counsel Rafay Alam explained that a huge advertisement on the back pages of two major Urdu dailies was published, but two days later a very small inconspicuous clarification was printed on inside pages of the same two dailies declaring that portion 53 of the advertisement concerning “the entire Walled City” was a mistake as the law does not permit commercial activity in the Walled City.

Rafay Alam said the wording of the advertisement did not negate the original advertisement. He urged the court to seek from the DCO a clarification, along the lines of the second advertisement, so as to bring on record that “no commercial activity was allowed inside the Walled City”.

Rafay Alam, the counsel and himself a leading Lahore environmentalist, told newsmen after the hearing that in most major old
cities of the world, the commercial areas are never more than five to seven per cent. Studies in these cities have shown that even a one per cent increase in commercial space has a major impact on the life and heritage of the people and their city.

Lahore’s Walled City, a UN World Monument site, has seen commercial area increase from approximately seven per cent in 1947 to an unbelievable 60 per cent plus. “It is devastating for our culture and heritage, what to speak of the hundreds of historic buildings and sites,” he said.

Majid Sheikh said: “Surely the time has come for the people of Lahore to stand up to defend their finest values and monuments. Money is not everything in life. When our rulers are out to erase our history for a few rupees, surely it means we have no future, for our future is being erased.”