The political changeover in the Punjab has put a question mark on the progress of the multibillion-dollar Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project
egime changes are known to affect development projects. The recent exit of the PTI-led Punjab government from the assembly has put a question mark on the progress of a number of mega projects, chiefly the multibillion-dollar city project on the Ravi Riverfront, which was being hyped as a potential game-changer.
The project has hit snags several times — when Sardar Usman Buzdar, the then chief minister, was toppled; and, later, when stories of large-scale corruption, illegal appointments and serious anomalies in its ranks surfaced. The FIA also started an inquiry into the process of purchase of private land by the Ravi Urban Development Authority.
It would be interesting to see if the mega project, planned over 102,000 acres of land and involving the construction of three barrages — one near Shahdara, the other on M2 (motorway) and yet another near the Hadiara drain — will take off during Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi’s tenure.
Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, the former chief minister, had eagerly taken charge of the project started by the Buzdar government. However, neither Hamza Shahbaz nor Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif had shown any interest in it. Those privy to government circles suggest that the PM has expressed his displeasure over the corruption scandals. Though, a formal announcement is yet to be made in this regard, it is alleged that 40-odd illegal appointments to key positions were made in the RUDA, in sheer violation of rules and regulations. Those at the helm of affairs in the authority are allegedly trying to cover this up.
The Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project was touted to mitigate environmental problems including water shortage and unplanned development. However, it has turned essentially into a real estate project against which a large number of farmers and landowners are up in arms. The stakeholders have approached the courts in pursuit of justice. This has hampered the progress on the project.
Waqar Ahmed, a landowner, says, “Last year, the RUDA team destroyed our wheat field. They claimed that the land belonged to the state.” Ahmed also says that his crops of potatoes and pumpkins were destroyed twice in the last six months, to discourage him from farming on the land.
Rashid Ahmed, another farmer whose family owns 63 acres of agricultural land 20 kilometres off the city, has a similar story to share: “They not only flattened our crops of maize, wheat, pumpkin and potatoes, but also seized water pumps and lodged police cases against me and my family members.”
30-year-old Rehmat Bibi, who works at a farm that was bulldozed by the RUDA team, says, “I pick lemons, potatoes and other seasonal crops for Rs 500 a day. But they destroyed it all. We now have nothing to pick, no wages to earn and no food for our children.”
In 2021, the Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan had approached the Lahore High Court to challenge the legality of land acquisition by the RUDA. In January ‘22, the court had declared the process of land acquisition as ultra vires (beyond the legal authority of the RUDA) and offensive to environmental laws. However, a few days later, the Supreme Court suspended the High Court’s ruling and gave the RUDA the go-ahead to the extent of the land that had been acquired and whose owners had been compensated.
In October last, the PILAP, represented by Advocate Rafay Alam, filed a petition at the LHC to complain that the RUDA was making fresh acquisitions in contravention of the Supreme Court judgment. The LHC then restrained the RUDA from carrying out land acquisition beyond the orders of the apex court.
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at ahsanzia155gmail.com