Lahore: Three years after the original Food Street in Lahore's old quarters fell prey to a political row, a new food court has been inaugurated at Fort Road near the centuries-old Shahi Mohala, a famous red light area.

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, had ordered the demolition of distinctive gate of the famous Food Street at Gowalmandi and imposed restrictions on outlets there because the venture took off during the regime of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

The Sharif brothers also reportedly had an enmity with the Food Street's owners, Tiffy and Gogi Butt.

Though Shahbaz Sharif publically said the restrictions on the Food Street at Gowalmandi were necessary for the "smooth flow of traffic" in the area, the eateries in the area were the main source of livelihood for around 10,000 people.

Many shop-owners alleged they were victims of the PML-N government's political vendetta.

The Food Street at Gowalmandi used to draw a large number of foreigners, especially Indians, with the eateries offering a vast array of culinary delights, ranging from harisa to fried fish.

The launch of the new Food Street at Fort Road was put off twice.

Interestingly, when it was to be initially inaugurated during Musharraf's regime, religious parties and the PML-N had opposed the venture, saying it was being set up in a "place of sin."

Fearing the backlash of hardliners, authorities shelved the project.

"Now to give Lahorites an alternate food point, it seems the Sharifs have washed away the stigma this Food Street had earlier," said Imtiaz Safdar Warriach, the head of the Punjab chapter of the Pakistan People's Party.

More than two dozen buildings have been refurbished and gates have been erected at both ends of the V-shaped street, which has been illuminated with western-style streetlights that seem to have no relevance to the historical background of Lahore's walled city. The buildings housing restaurants have been painted in bright colours like pink, yellow and green and none of these colours fit in with the historic texture of the walled city.    

Earlier, white plaster or natural brick colour was used in this area, with yellow used mostly for the houses of Hindus and Sikhs.

Wooden balconies known as 'jharokas' and carved wooden doors have been arranged to reflect the look of the old city.

To historians and art critics, the establishment of the Food Street on Fort Road is not a praiseworthy move.

They say the walled city has long been in need of restoration and rehabilitation.

For years the rundown historical buildings in the old quarters of Lahore have been in desperate need of financial aid to save them but nothing has so far been done in this respect, experts said.

Renowned conservationist, painter and historian Ajaz Anwar, commenting on the inauguration of the new Food Street, said: "It seems this is a type of politics. The main objective of the inauguration of the Food Street is to make Hamza Shahbaz, the son of Shahbaz Sharif, popular as a politician."

Anwar said: "This area was already known for various eateries. I don't see any reason for spending such a huge amount of money on this venture.

Several historical structures in this area are a picture of neglect while cleanliness and other public facilities are missing."
Habib Khan, head of the Society for Development and Management of Fort Road Food Street, said the new venture was better than the Food Street at Gowalmandi because of its "awesome scenic beauty" and proper arrangements for parking and security.

He said the Society, comprising 26 owners of houses in the area, had formed a group to run the new Food Street effectively under the patronage of the city district government.

"A number of tourists visit this place and with the establishment of the Food Street, an increasing number of locals and foreigners will get to taste the traditional cuisine of Lahore," he said.