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Aspects of the Ravi Urban Development Project: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

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For the past few weeks, farmers in Pakistan have been raising a hue and cry against the Punjab government’s pet project, the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project.

Developed by the Ravi Riverfront Development Authority, the project was initiated on the 7th of August 2020,with its main aim being to convert the dying Ravi River into a perennial freshwater body along with high-quality urban development on each side of the bank.

Cost and investment
The project is basically inspired by the developments around the River Thames in London. Initially it was supposed to span over 18,000 hectares, but in August 2020, the revised area of the riverfront was projected to be 40,000 hectares .The initial phase of RUDP is estimated to cost Rs 1 trillion, including land acquisition of Rs 200 million.

This project, first proposed in 1947 by the then Deputy Commissioner of Lahore, is slated as being capable of attracting foreign investors. According to Ravi Urban Development Authority’s (RUDA) Member Iftikhar Ali Malik, the government of China and various Chinese companies are interested to invest $3 billion dollars in the project initially. This investment would exclude all kinds of loans which could be acquired. Aside from this, a Global Investment Consortium, the ANGCC, has also offered an investment worth $5 billion on a partnership.

The plight of farmers
On paper, this sounds like a dream project, but for the farmers in Punjab who own the land along the sides of the river, it arrives as no less than a nightmare. The land has been their source of income for decades and now they are being offered peanuts for their land under the Land Acquisition Act. Landowners, small industry owners, workers and local residents have decided to launch protests against the government for initiating the process to forcibly acquire private land for the Ravi Riverfront project. Most of them have rejected the Rs. 200,000 per acre being offered by the government on the grounds that it is far below the market rate, which is somewhere around Rs. 1,250,000 per acre.

Many of the farmers are apparently not against the project itself, but rightfully want a fair market price to help them start over – especially since the private developers for whom their land is being acquired will be raking in billions of dollars in profit.

Sustainability of the River Ravi itself
A key point of the project is the sustainability of the River Ravi, which is the centre of the project. The project is aiming at restoring and cleaning the river and developing a lake. But farmers and environmentalists differ on this – as the river has no water in it, and instead there is a sewerage nullah. This is due to the closure of the river water by India. Moreover dumping of waste from the city into the river-bed over the years has extinguished river life due to an absence of biological oxygen demand (BOD). Around 3,500 cusecs of sewage water daily end up dirtying the clean water of the river.

And according to estimates, PKR 3.5 billion [USD 21 million] is needed just to clean the water coming from Lahore – this excludes effluent coming in from Gujranwala, Faisalabad and other places, which makes it extremely difficult and expensive to clear the river.

Floods as a threat to settlements
There exists also a constant threat of India releasing water from the two dams built on Ravi, which would lead to eventual flooding of the riverside settlements. According to data, floods along the Ravi are big every three to five years – and spread around one kilometre on each side. Once in 20 years, a flood is even bigger, with a spread of two kilometres on each side.

The project visualises an embankment area for a once-in-a-100-year flood, building a wall which would be very expensive, one kilometre wide and six kilometres long. But there is no floodplain: the water will have no place to go.

Environmental impact
Another point to be noted is the overall environmental impact of the project. Lahore already tops as the worlds most polluted city with a particulate matter reading of 423. The cause of smog remains pollution caused mostly by the transport sector and industries, including the construction industry and brick kilns.
Such a massive development project is definitely going to leave a significant carbon footprint.

The Naya Pakistan Project
Perhaps one of the most important question marks on the project is that it is build under the Prime Ministers’ Pakistan Project. It aims to generate a number of socio-economic benefits for the province of Punjab – most importantly affordable housing. But with such levels of investment by foreign investors, it seems likely to be affordable housing only for the corporate world and the rich.

LHC ruling
Currently, the Lahore High Court (LHC) has restrained Ravi River Urban Development Authority (RUDA) from carrying out construction work on the multi-billion-rupee Ravi River Front Urban Development Project till the grant of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). An international consultant has been appointed to look over the investigations.

There are so many aspects of the project which would beneficial: including the health, knowledge  and sports city slated to be built along with providing modern infrastructure and numerous job opportunities.

Yet on the other hand, the environmental impact of the project could be full of perils and needs to be seriously looked into. Whether this project is going to be boon or bane, only time will tell.

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