It is overwhelmingly ambitious and may take decades to get developed, however the federal government envisions Ravi Riverfront City as a new dawn. The Rs 5 trillion project aims to rehabilitate and develop the Ravi River into a perennial freshwater body, with high-quality urban development on the adjoining land for 35 million inhabitants on 70,000 to 102,000 acres, as estimated. Various official spokesmen term it “game changer” and liken the project to creating an alternative to Dubai, Istanbul and London for the benefit of Pakistani tourists.
Ecological vs. Commercial Aspects
The idea of a modern riverfront city at Ravi had earlier been floated by previous governments and administrative authorities, however the PTI government presents it as a model for ecological improvement of the area and big city Lahore. As explained in the official website of Ravi Riverfront City Authority (RUDA), “The structure of the city will stimulate urban renewal with penetrable green belts along the fields as main spine of the city called the Ecological Corridor. Plains will feature eco – ponds, wetlands, wildlife sanctuaries, theme parks, botanical gardens, algae ponds while promoting pedestrian commercial green boulevards and major roads.”
While the Punjab Government mentions it as “A modern city on the banks of the Ravi River, bordering Lahore on the north and the west sides, consisting of green belts, piers, boardwalks, along with 1.4 million residential units as part of Master-plan.” Moreover, there are many high-rise structures, malls, commercial spaces and entertainment spots with the involvement of private sector, which cast a doubt on the ecological vision and environmental sustainability of the city.
Despite of this real time scenario, there are also two major hurdles faced in the proposed city, which are;
- Criteria of Land Acquisition
On October 6, 2021, a notification under Section 4 of the Land Acquisitions Act was issued by the Punjab government signaling its intention to forcibly acquire thousands of acres of private land. The result in the first week of March 2021, was the unfortunate but expected assault by an enraged group of farmers on a provincial revenue team assigned to acquire land for the multibillion-dollar project. The farmers rightfully wanted a fair market price to help them start over since the private developers for whom their land is being acquired will be raking in billions of dollars in profit. But the government seems not in mood to pay them market price.
b) Scarcity of Water flow in River Ravi
The dying Ravi River to be developed as Perennial freshwater body is a complicated issue. As the training and channelization of river Ravi together with wastewater treatment plants is not an easy way-out. The river presently no longer remain a freshwater body. It is said the construction of 3 barrages enabling 46 KM long lake to store 271 billion liters of water would extend sustainability to the scarce Ravi. But how it would handle the flood management & stabilization of subsurface water level, river water purification for potable purposes and sewage water treatment plan. Nobody replies these questions.
It is however unfortunate that the PTI-government and other ruling elite take high-visibility projects as the panacea for the nation’s financial woes. Therefore, we see most state resources flowing into expensive schemes offering limited economic dividends and that too mostly to benefit the wealthy. Just look at the amnesty scheme, taxation relief and other incentives announced in the Construction Package 2020 in the name of encouraging low-cost, affordable housing for the poor. It is share disappointment.
Furthermore this obsession of the ruling elite with real estate has in the last few decades also resulted in shrinking space for the poor and middle-income groups in sprawling cities of Pakistan. These schemes, including Ravi Riverfront City would offer a posh locality to only a handful of thousands by making homeless millions of people. This is not a recipe for progress.