The proposed Ravi riverfront urban development project is as challenging as constructing five million houses in five years. The thinking on developing a city around River Ravi is almost as old as Pakistan. The idea was first floated by the first Muslim DC of Lahore in 1949. In 2003-04, the then CM Pervaiz Elahi brought again the idea to the fore; but given the sheer scale of the project, it was never pursued.
In 2013, the then PM Nawaz Sharif visited India and was excited to see a similar project in Gujrat, India. He thought of doing something similar for his hometown and asked his younger brother (the then CM of Punjab) Shahbaz Sharif to look into it. SS took no time to have a preliminary study conducted.
An international consultant Meinhardt was hired. Pre-feasibility and feasibility studies were conducted for the project. It was designed for 102,000 acres of land in three phases. The total cost is estimated at around Rs 2-2.5 trillion. Since it was an expensive venture and would require more than one political term to complete, PML-N government lost interest.
Now the PTI government is coming up with fresh zest. The total project cost has now escalated to around Rs5 trillion. The first phase of the project comprising of 44,000 acres may cost around Rs950 billion. This includes land acquisition, development, and infrastructure. These are basic estimates as the final design is still pending.
The idea is to bring river Ravi back to life by creating a lake. Prior to 2000, Ravi was bringing around 50,000 cusecs of water to Lahore and surroundings areas. But in 2001, Indian Punjab constructed a dam on the its side of the river. The Ranjit Sagar Dam (Thein dam) having 600 MW capacity has diverted majority of the water that previously flowed to the Pakistani side.
Today, the flow of water is reduced to around 25,000 cusecs. About 3,000 cusecs are coming from seepage of Thein Dam, 6,000 cusecs rainwater in the catchment area, and the rest is coming Marala-Ravi Link canal connecting through Upper Link Chenab.
It is a known fact that Pakistan is going to face water shortage in decades to come. There is a pressing need to address the water scarcity issue. The average rainfall in Lahore is 600-650 milliliters and that is sufficient to fill in the lake envisaged in the riverfront development project. The river channels 5km downstream from BRB canal to Hudiara drain with width of one kilometer. The lake capacity would be 271 billion liters.
The daily water consumption of Lahore is around 6 billion liters and the target is to be fulfilled by the lake in low flow season. The idea is to treat the sewerage water to reuse the water as well. The cost of 6 water treatment plants would be around Rs100 billion. Three plants are planned to be built in the first phase. Once that is done, the ground water dependency of Lahore would be reduced to half.
The first phase will build lake in around 4,000 acres of land. 28 feet high retaining walls shall be built around it. The lake shall be filled by rainfalls, and the rest will be channeled from upper link Chenab Canal and by water treatment plants.
It is a no brainer that the project will benefit the Lahore city. But the cost is too high. The first phase cost is even higher than Punjab government’s annual development budget. Government does not have that kind of money and local banks are not big enough to finance such mega infrastructure projects by themselves. Private sector in Pakistan is cash rich, and there is a big diaspora keen to invest in Pakistan’s real estate.
Thus, this project can only be developed by active involvement of the private sector. On the sides of the lake, there is flood zone area, which after its development may be suitable for housing, commercial and industrial development. The area identified for development is 44,000 acres – which includes 16,000 acres of Lahore and 28,000 acres of Sheikhupura. There will be a model city within or around the boundaries of Lahore.
The challenge is to come up with a model where the government facilitates, and private sector participates in Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode. For doing so, Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) has been formed. Rashid Aziz has been appointed as Chairman and there are private sector businessmen from capital markets on the board including Aqeel Karim, and Arif Habib.
One simple idea is to break the 44,000 acres into eleven chunks each of 4,000 acres and bring in joint ventures with eleven participants from the private sector. The idea is that private sector shall develop the land and give a chunk to RUDA. The authority shall retain the master planning and development charges shall be paid by the private partners.
The most crucial step of establishing an authority that allows the government to bypass the PPP Act and PPRA rules, and instead make its own rules to enter joint ventures is already done. The next step is to hire a transaction advisor. The pre-feasibility and feasibility studies are required to be updated. A consultant must also be hired for a detailed design, for which the EoI was already issued by LDA. It is a long shot; but worth dreaming.