Supreme Court Allows Work on Signal-Free Corridor in Lahore

A three-member Supreme Court bench allowed the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) to presume work on the construction of the signal-free corridor project. The construction on this project commenced on February 19, 2015, with construction work worth 60 million already undertaken on it by the contractors before the High Court issued the interim restraint orders preventing LDA from starting any new development project.

The Supreme Court suspended the LHC’s hearing while allowing LDA to resume the work subject to some changes in the project design, including provision for pedestrian crossings at certain locations along the signal-free corridor.  As per the court ruling the elected Local Governments are not in existence therefore the initiation, approval and the execution of the disputed signal-free corridor were to be performed by the provincial government through its agencies. The short notice stated that in the absence of elected local government, the provincial government was responsible for its  functioning. Therefore, the execution and development  of the  Signal Free Corridor project by the provincial government through LDA, was held to be valid.

The court noted that Article 140A of the Constitution  makes it mandatory for the provinces to establish Local Government with meaningful political, administrative and financial powers. ” It is the duty of a province to empower local government under Article 140A of the Constitution,’ it said. In the present case, the powers in relation to master plan and spatial planning historically belonging to Lahore Metropolitan Corporation have been superimposed with similar functions vesting in LDA under Provincial Law.  In the case of conflict in the exercise of their respective powers and functions by the two bodies or on account of legal provision  having  overriding effect, Article 140A of the Constitution confers primacy upon the authority vesting in an elected local government over the powers conferred by law on the provincial government or an agency.

Section 5(6) of the Punjab Environmental Protection Act, 1997 makes it mandatory for the provincial government to set up an advisory committee to help the Environmental Protection Agency in evaluating the environmental of development projects. In case of a failure to form such a committee the provincial government acts in violation of its statutory duty.  According to the Supreme Court order, there were no objections  raised in the EIA report that were not taken into account by the executing agency. Moreover, the right of appeal and further remedies on the merits of EIA, approval available under the PEPA 1997 has not been availed by the respondents. Therefore, the report could not be struck down upon presumption or mere apprehension.

The court also set aside and rejected any action referred to in the LHC judgment against the LDA officials or any other person. Detailed Judgement of the Supreme Court is awaited.