The recent observation of the Lahore High Court that the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project apparently is for the benefit of land developers serves as an eye-opener for the federal and Punjab government’ bigwigs. Various official spokesmen termed the ambitious project “game changer” and likened to creating an alternative to Dubai, Istanbul and London for the benefit of Pakistani tourists. But in these pages, it had already written that Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project would only serve “a posh locality to only a handful of thousands by making homeless millions of people.”
During the court proceedings, Justice Shahid Karim also regretted that no arrangements had been made by the Punjab government to allocate alternative land for agricultural purposes. He further observed that the conversion of agricultural land into the housing project was unjustified as the country was already vulnerable to food insecurity. The Infocus in its earlier blog had viewed the same by stating the project “cast a doubt on the ecological vision and environmental sustainability of the city.”
In the recent court proceedings, the forest department also extended its reservation that the Ravi Riverfront Project would result in felling of the trees as well for the housing buildings.
A Twisted Master Plan
The Punjab Government mentions the Ravi Riverfront Project 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.” However, the High Court mentioning gross irregularities in the project observed that the master plan was approved by the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Authority (RUDA) in December 2020 whereas the land acquisition notification was issued prior to it on Oct 6, 2020.
Earlier the Lahore High Court had expressed displeasure at the government for starting the land acquisition process of the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project much before the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval. The Court, during a hearing with Justice Shahid Karim in chair, had directed the Punjab government to present the master plan of mega real estate development scheme.
On behalf of the petitioners against the project, Advocate Sheraz Zaka told the court that the RUDA itself admitted in its reply that the project’s EIA was still pending approval before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The judge had directed the government to produce the master plan or else it would face the consequences on the next date of hearing.
A Fabricated Development Model
It is really unfortunate that the PTI-government and other ruling elite take upscale living and commercial 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 also resulted in shrinking space for the poor and middle-income groups in sprawling cities of Pakistan. This is not a recipe for progress.