LHC scraps celebrated Ravi riverfront project

Published January 26, 2022
A picture showing the envisioned model of the Ravi Riv­er­front Urban Develop­ment Project. — APP/File
A picture showing the envisioned model of the Ravi Riv­er­front Urban Develop­ment Project. — APP/File

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Tuesday scrapped the much-celebrated Ravi Riv­er­front Urban Develop­ment Project of the government by declaring several provisions of the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Ruda) Act 2020 unconstitutional.

Announcing a reserved judgement on multiple petitions, Justice Shahid Karim also declared the acquisition of agricultural land for the project unconstitutional and in violation of the fundamental rights of citizens.

The judge read the operative part of the judgement, which is yet to be released, and ruled that Section 4 of the Ruda Act 2020 was in violation of Article 140-A of the Constitution, which deals with the formation of local governments.

He also directed the Ravi Urban Development Authority to return a loan of Rs5 billion to the Punjab government within two months and ruled that the authority had failed to comply with the laws and initiated the project without a master plan.

Declares acquisition of agricultural land for the scheme unconstitutional, violation of citizens’ fundamental rights

Justice Karim said the Ruda (Amendment) Ordi­nance 2021 also failed to cover legal infirmities in the law. The judge ruled that the notification issued under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 had not been released in accordance with the law. The land collectors failed to legally acquire the land for the project, the judge added.

The judgement had been reserved on Dec 21, 2021.

Farmers, land owners and developers had filed petitions through lawyers Sheraz Zaka, Ahmad Rafay Alam, Azhar Siddique, Waqar A. Sheikh and others.

The petitioners had challenged the mode and manner of land acquisition proceedings undertaken for the project by Ravi Urban Development Authority. They said the land acquisition collector, despite a protest by the landowners, passed 18 awards on a single day amounting to billions of rupees.

They also challenged the legality of forceful acquisition of land for commercial purposes under the Land Acquisition Act 1894. Some of the petitioners questioned the legality of the Environment Impact Assessment of the project prepared by a non-registered consultant.

The Punjab advocate general had opposed the petitions, saying the project was of public importance and the court lacked jurisdiction to interfere in the policy affairs of the government.

Barrister Ali Zafar, the counsel for the Ravi Urban Development Authority, had argued that the project was environment-friendly and would ensure conservation, clean air for Lahore and include within it a massive forest.

Advocate Amina Qadir, who was appointed as amicus curiae, told the court that the project was not for public welfare. She said the government had been unable to justify the scheme keeping in view the public trust doctrine as Punjab would be bereft of its fertile plains.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2022

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