THE controversial Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project launched by former prime minister Imran Khan is again making headlines owing to a series of protests held by the affected farmers whose land is ‘forcibly’ being acquired for the scheme at ‘throwaway prices’. The images of heavy machinery being used by Ruda to destroy crops to take possession of the land it says it has already acquired and paid for have triggered a fresh wave of criticism of the project and the treatment being meted out to the farmers. The illustrations of the future development along the Ravi river tweeted by Mr Khan recently have led many to believe that he is pushing the Punjab government to move faster on the scheme. The affected landowners insist that Ruda has violated the Supreme Court order in its fresh push for land acquisition. While suspending a Lahore High Court order scrapping the project and declaring it illegal for violation of the law, the SC had given Ruda “conditional permission to work on the land whose compensation had been paid to the owners”. The farmers contend that few were paid compensation. But Ruda claims that development work was started after making payments to all landowners under the law and that the entire amount had been deposited in the treasury.
Even if the objections of environmentalists and urban development experts on the project spread over more than 100,000 acres of land are put aside for a moment, the design of the planned city completely ignores the owners of the land who should have been the primary beneficiaries of this development. Evicting them from the land they have owned for generations and depriving them of their livelihoods by paying them a small compensation is not the correct approach for any government. If the government and the former premier want this project to move ahead, they should ensure that the landowners and other residents of the area are the first beneficiaries of this real estate development unless it is envisaged exclusively for the elite and the rich land developers.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2022