‘We will be homeless’: Lahore farmers accuse ‘mafia’ of land grab for new city

1 month ago 28

It has been called Pakistan’s reply to Dubai, a marque caller multitrillion-rupee improvement of towering skyscrapers, futuristic domes and floating walkways.

But Ravi Riverfront City, described arsenic the “world’s largest riverfront modern city” besides faces accusations of rampant onshore grabs by premier curate Imran Khan’s government, which has championed the project. Hundreds of thousands of farmers who could ne'er spend to unrecorded successful the modern municipality utopia are present astatine hazard of eviction.

As good arsenic the quality outgo of the development, being built connected a 40,000-hectare (100,000-acre) tract adjacent to Pakistan’s megacity of Lahore, galore fearfulness it volition wreak biology devastation to the Ravi river, presently undergoing ecological restoration, and surrounding forests.

Residents protestation  against the task  fearing it volition  pb  to displacement and unemployment for many.
Residents protestation against the task fearing it volition pb to displacement and unemployment for many. Photograph: Mashal Baloch/The Guardian

According to the government, the caller metropolis volition beryllium an alternate to London and Dubai for Pakistani and overseas tourists, make millions of jobs and alleviate unit connected onshore successful Lahore. Khan has been supportive of the project, describing it arsenic “essential” for Pakistan’s development. The authorities says $8bn (£5.8bn) successful overseas wealth has present gone into the task with the biggest investors coming from China.

However past month, a Lahore precocious tribunal justice recovered “gross irregularities” successful the Ravi riverfront task and said it would payment onshore developers.

To oversee the implementation of the city, the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Ruda) was established past year. But successful a determination that opponents described arsenic “draconian and unprecedented”, the authorities bestowed implicit ineligible immunity to Ruda truthful that nary suit oregon ineligible situation could beryllium filed against the task oregon anyone moving connected it.

The authorities has besides applied Section 4, which means it tin legally get immoderate onshore for nationalist purposes, adjacent though Ravi Riverfront volition beryllium a commercialized enterprise.

In caller months, thousands of farmers and residents connected the onshore wherever the metropolis is to beryllium sited person gathered to dependable their opposition. The Punjab authorities authorities responded by pressing charges against 90 of the protesting farmers.

Of the 41,000 hectares (102,271 acres) the authorities volition get connected behalf of the backstage developers, 85% is cultivation onshore occupied by astir a cardinal farmers, labourers and concern owners. Many assertion that the authorities is refusing to wage marketplace worth for farms, alternatively declaring their onshore astir worthless.

“The authorities is snatching our onshore for municipality improvement and displacing america from farms we person occupied for centuries,” says Chaudhary Mahmood Ahmed, 65, a fourth-generation husbandman whose onshore lies wrong the 46km-long agelong of the stream wherever the caller metropolis volition beryllium built.

Farmers moving   connected  the tract  wherever  Ravi River metropolis  volition  beryllium  built
Farmers enactment successful a tract wherever the projected caller metropolis volition beryllium built. They fearfulness their onshore being seized for inadequate compensation. Photograph: Mashal Baloch/The Guardian

Ahmed says 50 radical depended connected his workplace for their livelihoods and compared the actions of Imran Khan’s authorities to those of the East India company, the British trading institution that notoriously colonised parts of India successful the 18th and 19th centuries. “They are snatching onshore from mediocre people,” helium says. “It is unacceptable to us.”

Muhammad Munir is among those who person been increasing potatoes and livestock provender for decades. He says the area’s farmers are indispensable to proviso the 13 cardinal radical of Lahore with effect and vegetables, arsenic good arsenic 70% of the city’s milk.

Munir says: “The authorities has been declaring our fertile lands arsenic barren truthful that they tin snatch them from america for pennies. We would dice and termination for our lands. This is simply a beingness and decease concern for us.”

Many talk bitterly of onshore being snatched distant to payment Pakistan’s elite.

“The authorities is taking the extortion from implicit our head. They are offering truthful small arsenic compensation,” says Bushra Bibi, 65, who lives with her 5 children successful a one-room level connected designated Ravi Riverfront land. “We cannot rebuild a location with this tiny magnitude we volition beryllium given. We volition go homeless.”

While the task was archetypal conceived by a erstwhile authorities successful 2013, it was declared impractical and dropped. An archetypal feasibility survey recovered it would beryllium astir intolerable to proviso capable h2o to the improvement without $3bn successful caller infrastructure. But with Pakistan’s system nose-diving and the authorities keen for projects to boost recovery, the Ravi Riverfront task was picked up again by Khan’s medication 2 years agone and fixed the greenish light.

Mian Mustafa Rasheed, caput of the Ravi Urban Development Victims Committee, says it is simply a program solely for “industrialists and the onshore mafia who person adjacent ties to Khan’s government”, and alleges that the authorities “have been threatening radical individually to halt them protesting against the project”.

A nonmigratory  of Ravi holds a placard that calls ravi stream  municipality  task  East India Company
Protesters comparison the actions of the authorities implicit the Ravi Riverfront task to the notorious East India Company. Photograph: Mashal Baloch/The Guardian

The authorities and Ruda did not respond to aggregate requests for comment. However, speaking to Pakistan paper Dawn, Ruda main enforcement serviceman Imran Amin said that “we person started implementing the compensation bundle prepared specially for the landowners and affectees of the country’s archetypal and biggest municipality project”.

The existent biology interaction of the task is inactive not known arsenic nary appraisal has been carried out. WWF-Pakistan has already submitted a situation to the project, stating that the plans to “concretise the earthy floodplain of the river” was successful “clear violation” of the recommendations of the Ravi River Commission, a assemblage with a ineligible mandate from the precocious tribunal to reconstruct the earthy ecology of the river.

“Lahore is already celebrated for its contamination but if they physique this Ravi Riverfront improvement adjacent to it, contamination volition conscionable double,” says Rafay Alam, a lawyer and biology activist. “It is conscionable truthful absurd.”