Dr Ajaz Anwar talks of how the Ravi has been reduced to size, and of the “whimsical” urban development project that threatens to leave adverse environmental impacts besides depleting Lahore’s agricultural resources
The story of Iravati took an ugly turn with the creation of Pakistan when the cities, having headworks of the canals, were handed over to India at the last moment by the Boundary Commission. India thereby was able to control the flow of waters into Pakistan.
The Liaquat-Nehru treaty of 1951 assured us a share of water, but that was only intermittent.
This region has a history of being flooded. This sometimes caused immense loss of life and property (as seen in the floods of 1949 and 1954). Though, the Walled City of Lahore, being built on a higher man-made mound, was never threatened.
Not content with the waters at their disposal the Indians wanted to divert the rivers and build dams to store water for irrigation and hydropower. Fearing ‘water wars,’ the World Bank mediated a treaty under which Pakistan was financed to build Mangla and Tarbela Dams. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru came to Pakistan in 1960 to sign an agreement with Ayub Khan.
It is always easier to sign such deals under dictators. It is on record that Fatima Jinnah, during her election campaigns, often said that the experts had told her that such dams would get filled up with silt over time. The experts have proved right. The natural flow of rivers cannot be blocked or diverted under international laws. India, after blocking the eastern rivers’ water, is now building more reservoirs. Nitin Gadkari, he Indian Union minister, has announced that they will fully block any flow of water in the eastern rivers.
While India was busy building reservoirs over Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, our rivers enjoyed an aquatic life and served irrigation purposes. The Indus Water Treaty, signed on April 1, 1960, is indeed a strange document, comprising 24 pages, in which the details of the use of eastern as well as western rivers have been detailed. However, there has been a long list of violations by India. The Ravi has been reduced into a ganda naala, with only industrial waste flowing into Pakistan that adds to our own sewerage flow. As a result, all aquatic life in the river has become extinct. The flora too have suffered.
Since the river is a source of replenishing ground water, its levels have dropped dangerously. All these issues were raised in the print media for years, by the likes of Salman Rashid. One such article that instantly comes to mind was printed in daily Dawn, on January 19, 2014; it was titled, Ravi: from River to Sewer.
The authorities on our side of the border came up with a lopsided idea of revitalising the Ravi. They claimed they could do so just by building another city beyond the right bank. The plan included forcibly acquiring all the agricultural and industrial lands against a pittance through a notice, Ref No LAC/ADR/604, dated March 29, 2014.
The plan at that time included five districts comprising 190 villages, populated by five million people. It spread over 150,000 acres of very fertile land. Its inhabitants would become homeless and lose their sources of income. The agricultural sector would suffer and hence food security would be compromised. In such a scenario, law and order problems might arise.
For the uninitiated, this area produces abundant wheat, rice, fish, meat and milk. Fruits such as strawberry guava, loquat, mango, and vegetables also help famers earn much needed foreign exchange. Fodder for the cattle too comes from here. Besides, this area produces more roses than any other part of the Punjab.
The residents, the farmers and the industrialists strongly protested and highlighted the facts. These were: the plan would dislodge hundreds of thousands of animals. Where would these be shifted?
After several protest demonstrations, this idea, floated by the previous regime, was abandoned. It was unworkable as it had been designed to serve only the interests of the developers.
In the meantime, two members of the Ittehad, namely, Mohammad Shoaib and Haji Fazal Karim, passed away, content that their lands had been saved. More recently, much to the dismay of the residents of the area, the abandoned plan has been revived under the freshly created Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA).
We live in strange times. On the one hand a master plan for Lahore is being developed and on the other such violations of environmental concerns are being carried out. The closing down of the city’s oldest airport — that is, Walton — is another link leading to gross financial intrigues.
Some members of the Lahore High Court Bar Association arranged a meeting on July 10. The participants were supposed to thrash out recommendations on the project. It was titled, Legal and Social Implications of Compulsory Land Acquisition.
The Centre for Social Policy, Pakistan, collaborated. In the beginning, a noted industrialist from the affected area, narrated the hardships he was sure to face with all his 30 years of work going to waste. A professor of sociology enlightened the audience about the psychological and financial impact on the dislodged population, especially the womenfolk. Soon afterwards, the arrival of the head of RUDA was announced. While all eagerly heard him and viewed the lollypop images projected on the screen, it was expected that he would answer the questions, but the RUDA head immediately departed, saying he had other assignments.
His attitude was strange. As to why he had consented to address in the first place begs many questions. He seemed to have many collaborators amongst the organising members of the respected Bar Association. But many speakers, after he had left, spoke vehemently and convincingly against the proposed urbanisation of fertile land.
More was to come. Only two days later, lawyers were to be hired for RUDA through a newspaper advert. That the project has not been approved by any environment impact assessment agency and there are many stay orders against it seems to have received no consideration.
(This dispatch is dedicated to Rana Asadullah Khan)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]