LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani court on Friday banned construction of the country's first rapid mass transit system within 200 feet (61 metres) of historic buildings in the city of Lahore, in a victory for heritage campaigners.
Campaigners had argued that the Chinese-funded metro project, most of which will be elevated, would endanger sites including the Mughal Fort, the Shalimar Gardens - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - a nineteenth century British-built church and the Victorian-era General Post Office.
"We are very much concerned about heritage in the city. The court has accepted our arguments and ordered construction to stop," said Azhar Siddique, a lawyer and petitioner in the case.
The Lahore High Court judgement upholds an earlier decision in January. However, the court declared that environmental approvals that the petitioners had said should be cancelled were valid, thereby allowing construction more than 200 feet from protected monuments to proceed.
The project manager of the Lahore Metro was not available to comment on the impact the ruling would have on construction.
Public transport is in desperately short supply in Pakistan and the government hopes the metro will ease travel in one of the country's fastest-growing cities.
The route of the line has puzzled many experts, however, who say far less damaging alternative routes were not considered, the United Nations said in January.
Construction began last year and has led to forced evictions and threatened protected sites and minority places of worship, the United Nations said.
Campaigners contend that the awarding of the project lacked transparency and was not done in consultation with residents. They have filed a second petition challenging the process.
(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Mubasher Bukhari; Editing by Robert Birsel)