Tuesday May 17, 2022

Illegal project

By Editorial Board
January 27, 2022

The Lahore High Court has declared the Ravi riverfront project, a project personally inaugurated with much fanfare by Prime Minister Imran Khan in August 2020 and loudly proclaimed by him as an answer to Lahore’s urban growth and environmental problems, illegal. The court, which had made the decision in December last year, but reserved it till Tuesday has held that the project is in the first case unconstitutional as agricultural land cannot be purchased without the proper process being completed and without other legalities. As such, the LHC has ordered that the Rs5 billion taken from the Punjab government to build housing along the Ravi bank from Lahore to Sheikhupura be returned and the project abandoned. PM Imran Khan had said the project would help solve Punjab's water problems and prevent turning Lahore into a city such as Karachi, which is desperately short of water. The court has said that farmers cannot be deprived of their lands and that this was a violation of a pre-colonial act, intended to protect them.

Farmers based along Ravi belt were immensely displeased with the project and had expressed their displeasure and anxiety. It was quite obvious from the start that the housing planned along the river and the building of commercial plazas or residential projects would not include the farmers whose houses were to be taken away from them. Experts appearing before the court have also said that it would only worsen Lahore's air pollution problem by further cutting into the green land still available in the city. The issue once again exposes the manner in which the PTI government has intended to execute its projects, without carrying out enough research or going into legalities which are essential to protect the people.

If the government wants to make business through such projects, it should first carefully consider all agricultural, environmental, flora and fauna costs that may have detrimental impact on the area – as well as protection of the livelihoods of local people. No business should be acceptable at the cost of people’s interests. No new legislation and projects should include unconstitutional provisions as the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA)’s project did, many of whose clauses the court has declared unconstitutional and against fundamental rights of citizens. And we must not forget the role local governments should play in initiating and scrutinising new projects that are likely to affect local people. The formation and effective functioning of local governments is imperative to ensure local people’s participation in such projects. It is possible the government may appeal the decision by the LHC, but the hearing showed a strong reason why the project should not go ahead, given the displacement it would cause farmers and the manner in which it cut into the green area along the river. Once again, governance has been mismanaged and the LHC has essentially said this in its verdict while citing constitutional clauses, which were evidently ignored.