LAHORE: Rao Naeem had set up a state-of-the-art dairy farm three years ago in Mauza Sahoo Kee Maliyan in Sheikhupura district, with “huge investment”. With over 100 local and imported cows in its sheds the farm produces 2,800 litres of milk per month which is then sold to a packed milk producer.

Some other 30 small and big farms in the village and adjacent mauza, Bhamb, have more than 2,300 cattle-heads and produce over 130,000 litres of milk monthly on an average. There are some fish farms around too.

Collectively these farms have been providing employment to a large number of villagers enabling them to earn their livelihood with honour.

Rao and other dairy farmers are very upset since the PML-N-led Punjab government has decided to establish a garment industrial zone (Garment City) covering land in Sahoo Kee Maliyan and the adjacent Bhamb mauza.

Consequently, the Punjab government has notified acquisition of some 12,000 kanals (1,500 acres) of agriculture land of the two mauzas – even though the selection process identified this land as ‘fertile’.

The government had constituted a committee headed by the chairman of Planning and Development Board to examine specific areas related to export-led garment industry and furnish recommendations thereof.

Later, working groups were constituted to implement the action plan. The working groups along with DCO Sheikhupura developed consensus on three sites where ‘prime, agriculture, irrigated land of 500-1500 acres is available to be acquired under the Land Acquisition Act 1894’.

The department identified three sites – (1) Mauza Bhamb and Mauza Sahoo Kee Maliyan (2) Mauza Kot Ranjeet, Dheerda, Thabal and (3) Mauza Kot Pindi Dass. According to the proposals submitted to the chief minister, the P&D department has recommended the site at Mauza Bhamb and Mauza Sahoo Kee Maliyan for the establishment of the garments cluster/industrial zone as it fulfils the parameters – proximity with motorway, availability of lands up to 1500 acres, sweet sub-soil water.

A senior government official said all procedures for acquisition of the land in question have been adopted in accordance with law. “The urgency provisions invoked are necessitated by the award of GSP-Plus status to Pakistan by the European Union,” he explains.

The initiative, that reportedly aims to benefit the Chinese manufacturers along with ensuring some local industrial presence, is seen as a ‘threat’ by the existing agriculture-based setup, complete with assets in terms of money and skilled farm manpower. “This is perhaps one of the rare examples where the government under the leadership of Shahbaz Sharif is aiming to set up industry on the fertile agricultural land,” Naeem Rao says.

Naeem and some fellow villagers have moved the Lahore High Court for relief. They have also formed an association – Anjuman Mutasereen-i-Garment City – and staged demonstrations against their ‘impending’ displacement.

“Establishing an altogether new setup will require much more money than we are being offered. The government is offering us Rs1.3 million per acre as against the market price of over Rs5m. This is not acceptable to us,” association’s president Nisar Virk says.

“All the area people are united and ready to resist the move.”

Up to 200 farmer families of different clan are living in the two mauzas. “We have an excellent crop twice a year and cash, or even allotment in lieu of land here, is not enough compensation,” Sanaullah Virk says.

There are three large-size dairy farms in the area, each one with investments between Rs150m and 200m. There are several other farms smaller in size.

As is usually the case, there is a political angle to the case also. The area people Dawn spoke to blame the PML-N MNA of their constituency for ‘allowing’ the officials to include their mauzas in the proposed project because they had supported Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

“The family of a PML-N MNA of Lahore has land in the mauzas adjacent to ours but their 100 acres stretch has not been included in the proposed garment city,” Fayyaz Cheema alleged.

The area people wonder how could the PML-N government set up an industrial zone on such fertile land while the Prime Minister’s Youth Loan Programme has been asking for investment in the agriculture sector, especially poultry, dairy and fish farms.

They appeal to the Punjab government to utilise the other industrial sites in Lahore, Faisalabad and Rahimyar Khan which, according to them, have ample space to accommodate the proposed garment city. “The government should first ensure provision of electricity and gas before launching more such ventures as only on Sheikhupura Road over 50 industries are these days closed because of want of power,” Malik Abdul Sattar, another farmer, says.

Naeem Rao says he has made up his mind: “I will take my investment out of Pakistan if I am forcefully evicted from my land.”

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