Imran says Ravi project case not contested well in LHC

Published January 29, 2022
PRIME Minister Imran Khan being briefed on Ravi Urban Development Authority project at Rakh Jhok Forest, Sheikhupura, on Friday.—INP
PRIME Minister Imran Khan being briefed on Ravi Urban Development Authority project at Rakh Jhok Forest, Sheikhupura, on Friday.—INP

LAHORE: Acknowledging that his government’s legal team could not present the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project case before the Lahore High Court (LHC) effectively, Prime Minister Imran Khan hinted that the administration would approach the Supreme Court and contest the case.

“The project is not about establishing housing societies, but creating a new planned city after Islamabad,” the prime minister stated in a video message recorded at the site of the project with a partially dried-up Ravi in the background. He visited the site on Friday and got a detailed briefing.

It transpired later in the day that a Supreme Court bench to be headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan is expected to take up on Monday the Punjab government’s plea to suspend the LHC verdict scrapping the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Ruda) Ordinance 2021. The matter may be taken up provided the petitioner furnished before the top court the detailed high court judgement.

In a hurriedly moved appeal through Punjab Advocate General Ahmed Awais, the provincial government took the plea before the apex court that the high court had failed to consider that the Ruda ordinance had already adopted the 2015 Master Plan of the Lahore Development Authority and encompassed almost all the schemes falling within the purview of the plan for the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project.

Punjab govt moves apex court against verdict scrapping Ruda Ordinance 2021

The petition regretted that with the stroke of a pen the high court wrapped up the $20 billion project by declaring certain sections of the act unconstitutional. The LHC could not intervene in light of various pronouncements by the Supreme Court and thus stall the entire development process, it stated.

It pleaded that the LHC had failed to appreciate that

the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project under Section 12 of the Punjab Environment Protection Act 1997 had already been granted, therefore, the case should not have proceeded on unsubstantial and vague contentions.

In Lahore, the prime minister said the city was sprawling in an unplanned manner that was depleting its water table and causing solid waste disposal and environmental problems, including polluting river water that runs down to the Indus.

Even if this project is not implemented, Mr Khan said, Lahore city was already expanding and will reach this spot through the private housing societies that had no idea about proper sewage disposal and water treatment plants.

Mr Khan made these comments in the wake of the LHC judgement that scrapped the government’s much-celebrated Ravi riverfront project by declaring several provisions of the Ruda ordinance unconstitutional besides declaring acquisition of agricultural land for the project unconstitutional and in violation of the fundamental rights of citizens.

Mr Khan asserted that the $20 billion project had been planned with minute details in line with modern cities in Malaysia and Dubai.

Referring to environmental degradation, the premier said no political party before the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had ever talked about the environment, adding that it planted one billion trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was now planting 10 billion more across the country. “Even at this project, some 20 million trees were to be planted to keep the air clean,” Mr Khan remarked.

Explaining other benefits of the project, he said it would save River Ravi as wastewater treatment plants would be installed to treat sewage before draining it into the river. Barrages would be constructed on the river bed to hold water and help increase the water table of Lahore city.

Mr Khan claimed the riverfront project would turn around the economy and benefit some 40 industries, offer hundreds of jobs and bring in much-needed foreign exchange. “Around $1.5 billion foreign investment has already reached Pakistan for this project,” he announced.

In order to develop public opinion about the project, the prime minister said, the project details would be shared with the media to educate them that the country needed more planned cities to shift the burden from big cities like Lahore and Karachi. “The PTI government is also trying to establish a similar city on Bundal Island, but the Sindh government, unfortunately, created certain hurdles in the project,” he said and lamented the project could ease Karachi’s ever-increasing problems of gas, power, water and management of solid waste.

Meanwhile, PM Khan claimed Punjab was a favourite destination of foreign investors, especially Chinese, who are willing to relocate their industrial units to Pakistan. To facilitate investors, the government was taking all-out measures to kickstart massive industrialisation – a vital sign for socio-economic development, he added.

The PM said this while chairing a review meeting on the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the country at the Punjab chief minister’s secretariat. He directed the authorities concerned to ensure provision of a business-friendly ecosystem for all potential investors, especially for acquisition of land on easy instalments to minimise their upfront capital cost, and availability of the plug-and-play model to help them start business operations as early as possible.

Mr Khan reiterated that effective regulations must be introduced to discourage the conversion of industrial estates into real estate ventures to avoid discouraging potential investors.

Earlier, the PM visited the Lahore Central Business District (CBD) project. He was briefed that Rs24 billion investment had been made in the first phase and billions of rupees more were expected with the auction of seven development sites next month.

“The project will help increase employment opportunities, investment volume and around Rs1,500 billion revenue in the years to come,” an official told the prime minister. The project also includes completion of Bab-i-Pakistan project and shifting of Walton Airport.

The PM also chaired a meeting on the ongoing development projects in Faisalabad division. Besides discussing the local political situation with party lawmakers, Mr Khan instructed that all development projects be completed as per timelines. He said the delivery of health cards would ensure quality services to all families in Punjab.

The meetings were attended by federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar, Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, special assistants Dr Shahbaz Gill and Khalid Mansoor, state minister Dr Farrukh Habib, Punjab CM Buzdar, CBD chief Imran Amin, the Naya Pakistan Housing & Development Authority chairman, Punjab CM’s special assistant Hasaan Khawar and other senior officers concerned.

Nasir Iqbal in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2022

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