The future of the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project remains in a limbo, as the concerned authority has yet not been able to acquire the requisite private land
Despite tall claims made by the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA), the future of Pakistan’s first mega riverfront property development project remains in a limbo. Till date, the authority has not been able to acquire the requisite private land for the project which entails that an entire city be built along the Ravi River, covering an area of more than 100,000 acres in the north of Lahore.
The RUDA has so far managed to acquire only 5,000 acres of land, most of which is government land and not private property.
The project managers’ failure to address the concerns of the locals with regard to the acquisition of their properties at throwaway prices have put a big question mark on the success of the project.
The RUDA is now offering an additional five-marla developed plot for those whose land lies on the riverbed, and an additional 10-marla developed plot for those whose land is on higher ground. This is in addition to the payment of ‘actual price’, set by the government. But the locals aren’t interested. In fact, they are taking to the streets to voice their angst.
“The government wants to deprive me of precious land,” says a furious Riaz Abbas, whose two-acre ancestral land in Shahdara falls in the project domain.
“They’re pushing the poor locals to sell their lands at throwaway prices. Basically, they want to grab our valuable property to serve the interests of a land mafia,” he adds.
Abbas declares that he will fight “the injustice” to the end.
Khalid Ahmed, another landowner, says: “The [RUDA’s] latest offer [of five-marla and 10-marla developed plots] too has failed to persuade the locals who know what their properties are worth.”
According to Ahmed, the RUDA initially offered them Rs 0.3 million per acre. He says the market price of the land runs into millions.
Another issue that has brought the project to a halt — at least for now — is a recent Lahore High Court stay order against land acquisition for the project. The LHC has also restrained the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from giving the project any kind of approval. (Under law, no project may begin construction work or operation without the EPA approval.)
The RUDA seems interested in only one thing: hiring personnel on hefty salaries, and seeking expressions of interest from developers. This may not be illegal but it raises many a question. For instance, how can the RUDA proceed to market the project and seek investment without acquiring the land it will need and getting an EPA approval? More so, when there are clear court orders restraining it from carrying on? No property developer can market their project without getting the relevant approvals. If the RUDA were a regular property developer, this would certainly be a violation of the law. But since the RUDA is a unique property developer, a special law has been made to allow it to function in such a manner.
Another issue that has brought the project to a halt — at least for now — is a recent Lahore High Court stay order against land acquisition for the project. The LHC has also restrained Punjab’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from giving the project any kind of approval.
Talking to TNS, the RUDA chief executive officer (CEO), Imran Amin, rejects the notion that land is being acquired forcibly.
He claims that the authority has chalked out a number of attractive offers for the landowners: “We are all set to acquire private land after paying the owners reasonable amounts. Additionally, developed five-marla and 10- marla plots will be provided to the owners. Those affected shall be duly compensated.”
He says that the project shall “prove to a game-changer. A new city is the need of the hour. The positive impact [of the new city] shall soon become visible.
“Lahore is faced with multiple challenges, thanks to the ever rising population vis-à-vis inefficient urban planning. In these circumstances, the master plan of Lahore should have been revised several times in the past, but no one in the previous regimes cared to do that.”
According to Amin, this will be the first green city of Pakistan. He says a consortium of 13 reputed companies has won the contract for developing Sapphire Bay, which is under construction in the first phase of the project. Besides, massive forestation, seven water treatment plants, and three barrages — planned over 2,000 acres of land — are to be built.
The project shall have 29 sectors, built over 102,000 acres of land, with major focus on mitigating environmental issues, water shortage and unplanned development in the area. The treatment plants and the barrages shall be built to overcome the water shortage and raise the water table in the city. “These barrages shall go a long way in saving the city from a flash flood in case India releases waters during a monsoon,” he adds.
LDA Vice-Chairman Sheikh Muhammad Imran, states that there’s “no delay in the project schedule. The RUDA, he says, has acquired around 5,000 acres of land. As soon as the stay is vacated by the court, work on the rest of the project shall commence.”
He says that the project shall “not only fulfill the socio-economic needs of the citizens but also create many jobs opportunities. [The new city] shall have state-of-the-art healthcare facilities, technology centres, educational institutions, and sports grounds.”
The LDA VC concludes by saying, “Presently, 836 cusecs of untreated domestic wastewater is being dumped into the Ravi. Developing a lake shall purge [the river] of all domestic and industrial waste.”
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected]