LAHORE: Landowners, small industry owners, workers and local residents have decided to launch protest against the government for initiating the process to forcibly acquire private land for the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project under a ‘fast track plan’.

The people fearing loss of their precious land say the project worth trillions of rupees is a “game of their death” and not the game changer as the prime minister calls it.

“We have no option but to resist the government’s move of snatching our precious land for a project designed for land mafia,” deplores Mustafa Rasheed, PML-F Punjab General Secretary.

Speaking to Dawn on Wednesday, he said: “The protest move we have planned will be the biggest ever in country’s history and it will jolt this government as well as the country. Let’s see how they (the government) acquires our land.” Mr Rasheed (an agriculturist) is younger brother of PTI’s minister for housing Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed.

The work on the project had been launched in 2014-15 through feasibility study conducted by the Lahore Development Authority. The Rs5 trillion project envisaged development of a new city having several economic activities, modern living with residential and commercial areas and it also aimed to revive the Ravi with water channelisation through barrages. But the then government (PML-N) shelved this project due to massive reaction from the public at large and non-availability of adequate funds. However, PM Imran Khan in August this year launched the project by laying its foundation stone.

Work on land acquisition was initiated in October, triggering protests in various parts of the project area (46km stretch along both sides of the Ravi River having many chunks of land measuring over 100,000 acres).

Discussing the protest movement, Mr Rasheed revealed it would start on Nov 29 -- the day when thousands of people would reach Charing Cross (The Mall) in front of the Punjab Assembly building. This mass protest would be helpful to mobilise the people participate in further events to resist the land acquisition for this project.

“We are also holding a press conference soon in which we will prove that the land acquisition for this project is absolutely unlawful, unconstitutional and unethical. We will also tell media that this is also against verdicts of the Supreme Court of Pakistan which discouraged private land acquisition for the purpose,” he said.

When asked why the people are worried since the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) recently clarified that no structure (house, factories etc) would be demolished, he said it was a vague statement.

“If they are not acquiring this, why don’t they de-notify the notification of imposing section 4 (land acquisition act).”

River Ravi Industry Owners Association Chairman Inam Butt said the Nov 29 event would be a joint one by the landowners, industry owners, workers and the residents. “We will also challenge the project in court soon,” he said.

In a recent tweet, RUDA chief Mr Rashid Aziz said the project was a pro-poor initiative that would prove to be a heaven for the residents. “We are clear. Nobody gets displaced and thrown out in Imran Khan government. Poor has the first priority. Instead RUDA is going to make a heaven for current residents on new city of Lahore,” it says.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2020