LAHORE: The Ravi Urban Development Authority, carrying out a 46km long real estate project on the agriculture land along the river with the help of the private sector, has allegedly started acquiring more farmlands forcibly from the farmers in recent days, destroying crops on hundreds of acres in the Ferozewala area.
The farmers and landowners, who have been victims of the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, accused the former premier Imran Khan for pushing the Pervaiz Elahi-led Punjab government for using force and arms for taking possession of the land. They announced to launch a mega protest movement against the government and the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Ruda) by the end of this week.
“We will never allow anyone to use our land for the project, which is disastrous. This land feeds the entire Lahore by providing fresh vegetables and we have decided not to allow anyone to acquire or try to possess this forcibly,” Suleman Muhammad Sajjad Warraich, a landowner whose family owns major chunks of land in the project area, especially the Sapphire Bay area of the project.
Farmers accuse authority of destroying crops on their land; authority denies charges
“We will resist this project by all means,” he warned.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Jan 25 had scrapped the project, declaring it illegal for various violations of laws, including absence of master plan and acquisition of the land against the rules. However, in less than a week on Jan 30, the Supreme Court suspended the LHC verdict, giving Ruda conditional permission to work on the land whose compensation had been paid to its owners.
Mr Warraich said the apex court had directed Ruda not to use force against anyone to surrender his/her land to the government.
“During for the last few days, they (Ruda people) have suddenly appeared and started development work at our land by destroying the crops, vegetables, fodders etc on hundreds of acres,” he said, criticising the government for destroying vegetables and crops at the time when the crops at one/third of the agriculture land has already been ruined by massive floods.
“It is really a great tyranny against us as well as with the country,” he mourned.
Many videos had been shared on social media also by the victims who alleged that private contractors with private security guards were taking possession of their land forcibly in the Ferozewala area. Heavy machinery, being protected by private guards, can be seen destroying crops in the video clips.
Talking to Dawn, Malik Amir, another big farmer, alleged that Ruda never talked to the farmers seriously about any viable land acquisition plan.
“We had demanded two kanal developed plots per acre. But they kept offering us only one 15 marla plot against each acre. We also told them to also make the compensation package as part of the award under the land acquisition act. But they didn’t do it,” he explained.
Mian Mustafa Rasheed, the chief of the joint action committee of the affected people, termed the Ruda act of destroying the crops illegal, demanding the supreme court to intervene and take action. “We will register an FIR against PTI chairman Imran Khan for pushing the Punjab government to accelerate work on Ravi project by getting the land from landowners forcibly,” he said and alleged that the Punjab government had announced the award for the land and transferred it into its name forcibly.
Mr Mustafa, a brother of the Punjab Minister Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, said there were only few people who received compensation from Ruda. “Now they have launched work on the land for which no one was given any compensation,” he claimed and announced a protest movement against the project within the next couple of days.
On the other hand, Ruda rejected the allegations of the farmers.
“We have launched development work in the Sapphire Bay area after making payment to the landowners through land acquisition process under the law,” claimed a spokesman for Ruda.
“Under direction of the Supreme Court, the authority acquired the land as per consent of the landowners,” he claimed.
However, the landowners have termed the Ruda’s stance false and baseless, saying they had already rejected the land acquisition process by challenging it in the court and subsequent directions of the apex court, allowing Ruda to start the development work only at that land it had acquired. How the authority forcibly could start development works at the land (falling in Sapphire Bay area) that had not been acquired, they asked.
The Ruda spokesman claimed that the entire amount had been deposited to the government treasury under Section 6 of the Land Acquisition Act 1894.
“It was done when all, whose land was being acquired, including Mr Warraich and other families, agreed under an agreement. Later, one Tahir Warraich, despite agreeing publically and having compensation in the government treasury, backed out of the agreement unlawfully,” he alleged, adding that another man, Saad Warraich, later started demanding more compensation than that he and his relatives had agreed to already. “The money/compensation is already deposited in the account of additional deputy commissioner (revenue). And they can receive it from them as we have completed our legal obligations in this regard that allow us to use the land we have acquired,” he explained. However, this claim means that the compensation amount had not been received by the landowners.
It may be mentioned that in August 2020, the then prime minister Imran Khan had laid the foundation stone of the controversial real estate project.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2022