Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday backed the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, saying that the government would argue in the Supreme Court against the Lahore High Court's (LHC) decision to scrap it.
The premier visited the site of the project earlier today as part of a one-day trip to Lahore. Speaking to the media, he said that a planned city was being made for the very first time since the creation of Islamabad as a city.
PM Imran said that the objective of the project was to curb the expansion of Lahore. "If Lahore continues to expand, then the water table will continue to recede," he said, adding that solid waste disposal would also become a challenge.
"River Ravi is shrinking and will soon become a sewerage drain," he said, gesturing towards the water behind him.
He said that even if the modern Ravi city was not constructed, Lahore was well on its way to expanding up to this point. "Unplanned housing societies are being constructed [...] they have no concept of a sewerage system or water treatment plants," he lamented.
The premier stated that he respected the judiciary, but the government did not effectively plead its case in front of the LHC. "We will plead our case in front of the Supreme Court."
The prime minister also dispelled the impression that housing societies were being built under the project, stating that a new city was being developed.
"It will be a modern city which will be constructed at par with Dubai and Malaysia and will expand vertically."
He said that prior to the PTI, no other political party had ever focused on the environment. "It is the first party that has been recognised for growing one billion trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the drive to grow 10bn trees across the country."
He added that a whole "jungle" would be grown alongside the project. "A planned jungle is being grown which will keep the environment clean."
Similarly, barrages would be built in an effort to replenish the water table while treatment plants would also be made to dump clean water back into River Ravi.
He said that the initiative, which cost Rs20bn, would also attract foreign investment and contribute to wealth creation.
Addressing the nation, the premier said that such cities were the need of the hour due to the rate of population growth. "If cities continue to expand, we will not be able to address pollution, waste disposal or provide people with essential amenities."
He said that the government would present the detailed plan behind the project to the media so that the people could realise the significance of such a project.
The premier's statement comes days after the high court scrapped the project by declaring several provisions of the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Ruda) Act 2020 unconstitutional.
Earlier this week, Justice Shahid Karim of the LHC had announced a reserved judgement on multiple petitions.
He had 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 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.
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.
PM meets Buzdar
Meanwhile, PM Imran also met with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar during his Lahore trip. According to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the two discussed the overall political and administrative situation of the province as well as ongoing development and public welfare projects.
PM Imran also toured the Central Business District in Lahore and was given a detailed briefing on the project.
He was told that the first phase of the project attracted Rs24bn in foreign investment. "The project will provide a world class business centre and accommodation facilities in Lahore," the PMO said.