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EDITORIAL: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has declared the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development project unconstitutional as it lacks a master plan and directed the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) to return loans from the provincial government within two months as “the acquirement notification under Section 4 is illegal.

The agricultural land can only be acquired when there is proper legal framework but in this case it was obtained in violation of the Land Acquisition Act 1894.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan while inaugurating the project on 7 August 2020 claimed the 5 trillion rupee project aimed to rehabilitate and develop the Ravi into a perennial fresh water body, with high quality urban development on adjoining land to house around 35 million, would be a game-changer for the economy, followed by similar sentiments expressed when he returned to the site for the foundation stone-laying ceremony on 15 September 2020.

On 19 December 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding, a non-binding pledge, was reportedly signed with two Chinese companies — China Road and Bridging Company and China and Gezhouba Group Company Limited — which indicated an interest in seeking contracts to carry out infrastructure projects.

RUDA has advertised around 28 times for expression of interest on project components, hiring staff including a law firm, as well as for procurement of equipment.

RUDA’s website does not indicate the outcome of these advertisements or money spent from loans by the provincial government. There is also no activity registered on the RUDA website after 21 January 2021 on which date a proposal for development, marketing and sales of zone 3 (2,950 acres) Sapphire Bay was invited.

An unidentified RUDA member reportedly informed a newspaper in January 2021 that the project attracted 8 billion dollars though this claim is not substantiated on the RUDA website.

Hasaan Khawar, Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister on Information and Special Initiatives, Tourism and PHAs, and spokesperson for the Punjab government tweeted on 16 January 2022 that the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development on both river banks along a 46-kilometer stretch is the realization of PM Imran Khan’s vision to stop unplanned urban sprawl, raise water level, and revive river Ravi.

The first zone of Ravi River Front Project, Chahar Bagh, is being started from today (last Sunday), according to him. But the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, like some other projects that pre-date 2018 were considered by previous administrations.

In July 2014, a four-member delegation was sent to Sabarmati Riverfront project — the river originates in the Aravalli Range of Udaipur district of Rajasthan and meets the Gulf of Khambhat, a bay on the Arabian Sea coast of India, after travelling 371km in a south westerly direction across Rajasthan and Gujarat — with the possibility of replicating it in Lahore. However, the Sharif government abandoned the project because it was deemed financially unviable.

It is important to note that the Punjab government has moved the Supreme Court (SC) against the LHC verdict. One would hope that the issues cited in the LHC verdict are first taken into account; notably, that a master plan be developed, and either the law ministry be charged with updating the 1894 Act or agricultural land acquisition process be followed as per the existing law that the government claims is outdated.

That the PTI administration appears to be proactively implementing projects that were considered and abandoned by its predecessors, without bothering to review paperwork painstakingly generated that covers all aspects, pros and cons, of a project is a fact.

Many of the mistakes associated with the present government charged with incompetence and poor governance can be sourced to their failure to peruse or examine the files that contain all relevant information.

One would hope that Prime Minister Khan not only directs members of his cabinet to read the relevant paperwork but that he leads by example and does not rely on others to brief him on matters that may reflect their bias.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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