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EDITORIAL: The Ravi River Urban Development Project, a 46km- long real estate venture launched by former prime minister Imran Khan, has been drawing the ire of environmental experts and activists right from its inception.

It is now the subject of a new controversy. Farmers who own farm lands in the area are up in arms over the plan accusing the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Ruda) of forcibly taking possession of their land where they grow food crops and vegetables for supplying to the city of Lahore. They have vowed to “resist the project by all means”.

Their key concern, though, is more about what they deem as fair compensation than losing cultivable lands. They are reportedly complaining that ignoring their demand for two kanal developed plots in exchange for one acre Ruda is offering them only 15 marla plots per acre.

Conflicting claims are being made. While the farmers’ representatives say no one has been paid compensation, according to Ruda’s spokesman development work in the Sapphire Bay area was started after making payments to the land owners through land acquisition process under the law, and that the entire amount had been deposited in the treasury under Section 6 of the (archaic) Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

This is not the first time for the project to encounter problems. Early on, it faced a serious impediment when the Lahore High Court (LHC) declared it illegal, citing various violations of laws, including absence of a master plan and acquisition of land against rules.

Nonetheless, soon afterwards the Supreme Court suspended the LHC’s verdict, giving Ruda conditional permission to work on the land after paying compensation to its owners. Chief of the owners’ joint action committee, Mustafa Rasheed, whose brother Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed is a PTI minister in the Punjab cabinet, has described Ruda’s activity as illegal, and is preparing to start a protest movement against the project, also urging the Supreme Court to intervene and take action against the Punjab government which, he said, had transferred the land to its name against the consent of the owners.

Furthermore, he has threatened to register an FIR against Imran Khan allegedly “for pushing the Punjab government to accelerate work on the Ravi project” through forcible evictions. As regards the legal aspect of the case, it is for the relevant courts to decide the rights and wrongs of it.

Imran Khan, a standard bearer of “Clean and Green Pakistan”, has initiated several green projects, such as ‘Ten Billion Tree Tsunami’, nine new national parks, and Japanese Miyawaki forests in urban areas. It is rather perplexing that he should launch not only the river front real estate project at the cost of environment but also take up construction of a business centre in place of the Lahore flying club, which should have been reserved for a public park or growing a Miyawaki urban forest.

Greedy developers have already destroyed the green belt around the city. It is about time planners in all metropolitan cities prevented urban sprawl, adopting smart growth policies. Whatever is left of green spaces on the outskirts of urban centres must be preserved and protected.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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