THE door-to-door drive being launched by a group of landowners to mobilise affected communities against what they call the ‘forcible acquisition’ of their lands by the Ravi Urban Development Authority for a multi-trillion-rupee riverfront real estate scheme near Lahore is an effective strategy to step up pressure on the government. Hundreds of farmers from the areas where the provincial government plans to implement the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project have been agitating for the last two years against the controversial scheme that is feared to annihilate thousands of acres of agricultural land and orchards that have been supplying vegetables and fruit to the residents of the provincial capital for decades. That they have now decided to expand the scope of their protests by involving people from other walks of life, including local businesses and residents who are going to be affected by the proposed project, underlines their growing frustration with RUDA. If properly carried out, the public mobilisation drive will help reinforce their collective campaign against a project that will enrich powerful developers and builders rather than the present owners of the land.
The riverfront venture has drawn public criticism and the ire of activists from its very inception almost two years ago. However, former prime minister Imran Khan, who had ordered his party’s administration in Punjab to revive it and launch it as one of his flagship development schemes, didn’t carry out a proper environmental impact assessment of the venture before inaugurating it in 2020, despite warnings from the experts. That wasn’t all. The way the authorities hastily moved in to acquire land at a rate far below market value and, recently, bulldozed standing crops on behalf of the country’s powerful real estate mafia has further alienated the affected communities that have been tilling this soil for the last two to three generations. The protesting farmers have a point when they say they would readily cooperate with the government for the regeneration of the Ravi river and other initiatives meant to improve the environment, but will keep resisting the forced land acquisition that benefits the land developers and builders. The problem with the Ravi urban project is that it aims to mainly create expensive real estate development opportunities for the wealthy in the name of saving Lahore, the Ravi and the environment. Yet deep down everyone knows that it will end up hurting local communities, destroying farmlands and uprooting small businesses in the area.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022