The PTI government in Punjab is adamant on developing a new city from scratch on the banks of River Ravi near Lahore, despite several court proceedings against them, the Punjab Governor rejecting the project and leading architects and environmentalists highlighting flaws in the proposed plan.
Among the three bills passed by the Punjab Assembly on Sept 7, 2022, one is the Ravi Urban Development Authority (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Bill No. 14 Of 2022). The bill was originally passed on Aug 24, 2022 by a majority vote, however, the Governor under Article 116(2) (b) of the Constitution returned it, with a message for the bill to be reconsidered.
Spread over 100,000 acres, the Ravi Urban Development Project (RUDP), which is to be completed in 30 years, has been promoted as the ‘world’s largest riverfront modern city’ near Lahore.
In August 2020, the then Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the project, envisaging 12 cities in multiple phases — medical city, residential city, government and finance city, innovation city, knowledge city, mix use, sports city, tourism and entertainment city, eco city, commercial city, urban farms and downtown. MOUs worth USD 1.4 billion have already been signed with various companies, including a Dubai-based firm, to develop some of the project’s components.
The project has received flak from most concerned quarters, with experts raising serious concerns about its affect on the livelihood and displacement of local farmers. They question the findings of the environment impact assessment report as well as the project’s effect on ground water level, the use of potentially hazardous materials, traffic and noise pollution and solid waste disposal mechanics.
The findings of a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) titled ‘Boon for business… bane for farmers? The Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project – An HRCP fact-finding report’, are rather alarming. It states that among all other violations in the environment assessment, land acquisitions, and farmer’s concerns, the project in the garb of providing affordable housing to the needy will render poor farmers and their families homeless.
While assessing the politics of the project, academic Dr Ali Usman Qasmi contended that the RUDP was not aimed at resolving the country’s severe housing crisis. Instead, he asserted in the HRCP report, “it represented a typical speculative real estate venture where the approach was to take an abstract space and commodify it for commercial purposes”.
It would indeed be judicious to reassess the cost of RUDP on environment in the light of the recent devastation caused by the floods, rather than satisfying the greed of the real estate developers.