LAHORE: A full bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC), on Friday, while disposing of different petitions allowed the Punjab government to construct a parking plaza, library and bowling alley on 18 percent of the 39 kanal area of Doongi Ground, Gulberg, while the remaining area would still serve as a public park.

The bench comprising Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Justice Sh Azmat Saeed, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Nasir Saeed Sheikh and Justice Asad Munir on June 20 had reserved the judgement, which it announced on Friday.

Former Punjab chief minister Ch Pervaiz Elahi had started the project in 2006, with the aim of constructing a multi-million project of IMAX theatre and a shopping mall at the Doongi Ground.

A Karachi-based NGO Shehri-CBE (Citizens for Better Environment), Journalist Ardeshir Cowasjee and 11 residents of the area had moved the petitions challenging the project.

Justice Saeed Akhtar had stopped construction on the project through a stay order on February 23, 2006. A division bench of LHC had vacated the stay order on March 9 but the Supreme Court had restored the stay order and remanded it to LHC with directions that a larger bench should hear the case.

Then, in 2010, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had approved the construction of library, gymnasium and bowling alley. Later, the Punjab government through its lawyer Raja Salman Akram had moved an application seeking permission for the said project.

The Punjab government’s counsel informed the court that only 18 percent of the total ground area would be used for construction purposes, while the rest of the site would remain “uncovered” playground area.

However, the petitioners’ counsel, Muhammad Azhar Siddique, opposed the theatre’s construction and said that the Doongi Ground had been earmarked as a public park in the original scheme designed for Gulberg before partition. Hence, the site could not be used for any commercial purpose. He said recreational facilities such as parks and playgrounds were rapidly reducing in the city due to “commercialisation” and the court should take protective measures in this regard.

He submitted that the government wanted to cover up corruption of millions of rupees in the project. He said that before 2008 general election, Shahbaz Sharif had publicly announced that original status of the park would be restored. He said that the LHC could not go beyond the parameters set by the SC through its order.

Siddique also submitted that the project was illegal and no-objection certificate had been obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The petitioners had also challenged Doongi Ground’s transfer of ownership from the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) to the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA), and finally to the Punjab Entertainment Company (PEC). The whole ownership transfer process is “flawed” and was carried out in blatant violation of the law, it stated. On August 8, 2006, a single bench of the LHC had stopped the provincial government and the PEC from continuing constructing the theatre. The stay order was vacated on March 9 by the LHC division bench and construction work was resumed. However, the petitioners moved another petition in the SC, which again stopped the construction work and referred the matter to the LHC for its disposal in accordance with the law.

Raja, however, argued that the project contained huge investment opportunities and permission must be given to complete the projects of public utility on the land.