LAHORE: In a bid to provide legal assistance to the affected farmers and gather them at a single platform to resist the ongoing land acquisition by the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Ruda) and other authorities concerned, a door-to-door “awareness drive” has been launched in the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project area.

The drive named “Tauheen Adalat Namnzoor (contempt of court is unacceptable) March”, aims at saving the green areas and mobilising the growers and people from other walks of life against the government’s plan to launch various activities related to housing, commercialisation etc. It is also an effort to prepare the farmers and others for launching a joint, decisive agitation on the issue.

On the other hand, some of the landowners are claiming to have repossessed their lands acquired by Ruda in recent days, Dawn has learnt.

“We are currently at a do-or-die stage, especially on the issue of land acquisition for various project activities, and development of housing schemes. We are ready to cooperate with the government for the project activities related to revival of the river Ravi and any other initiative meant to improve environment, but will keep resisting the forced land acquisition (being resorted to) to the benefit of realtors,” Ruda Action Committee for Project Affectees chairman Mustafa Rasheed warns while talking to Dawn on Saturday.

Farmers also plan a ‘decisive agitation’ against Punjab govt

Talking about the drive, he says it has been launched recently in the project area and a tractor-mounted float has been prepared to spread the messages against Ruda and land acquisition. A special song (tarana) is also played from the float that moves daily on various roads, passing through villages and important intersections, in a bid to create awareness among the farmers about the “injustices” being done to them by the authority and the Punjab government, he adds.

“In January this year the apex court had ordered Punjab government and Ruda not to dispossess the farmers forcibly and carry out the development work on the land acquired after paying compensation to the farmers. But, the authorities flouted this order by issuing an illegal award of land despite a stay order by the court and got the land transferred,” he explains.

He says that later the affectees approached the Lahore High Court that cancelled all Intiqals (mutations) done forcibly and unlawfully. On November 23, according to him, Ruda sought another date for submission of its reply, and the court ordered it to appear on December 14. Besides these petitions, many others are also being heard in various courts.

Under SC orders, he says, Ruda cannot destroy the farmers’ standing crops, but the authorities continue flouting the court orders without any fear.

“Keeping in view the court orders, several farmers also got possession of their land back from Ruda. At this, Ruda authorities also lodged several FIRs against the farmers,” he maintains.

Rasheed, who is brother of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Mehmoodur Rasheed, says the land acquisition process had earlier been slowed down after the apex court orders in January. But, as soon as the Parvez Elahi-led government took over in Punjab, the government, allegedly on the directions of former premier Imran Khan, restarted the land acquisition process with a vengeance, he regrets.

“Actually, the former PM and his men (investors) have vested interests for which they want to develop housing schemes on the precious fertile agriculture land that provides fresh vegetables, fruits etc to Lahore and its adjoining districts,” he alleges. “But we have decided not to surrender at any cost,” Mr Rasheed says.

He says the action committee has also decided to launch the final protest move against Ruda as soon as the political situation in Punjab becomes stable. “We will first meet the chief minister, and if our demands are not met, we will launch a long march on Lahore,” he warns.

A spokesman for Ruda, however, rejected the farmers’ claim of retrieving land from Ruda.

“It is not true at all. We have possession of the land and we are working on it,” he claims.

He says Ruda has acquired the land after completing all procedures under the Land Acquisition Act. “Nothing wrong has been done on our part,” he claims, adding that however, there are some farmers who still consider the state land, which was transferred to Ruda under the law, as their own property, which is not the case.

Ruda had, earlier in September, clarified that the land was acquired after depositing the compensatory amount to the government treasury under Section 6 of the Land Acquisition

Act 1894. In August 2020, the then prime minister Imran Khan had laid the foundation stone of Ravi project.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

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