‘Pakistan farmers lose homes, livelihoods to new city project’

Islamabad, Apr 11 (EFE).- Thousands of farmers in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore are losing their homes and livelihood to a multi-billion dollar new city project, a global rights group said Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch urged the Pakistan authorities to enforce environmental protections and reform colonial-era laws that grant the government powers to acquire land for public use.

Then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government inaugurated the $7-billion Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project 2020 to address Lahore’s pollution, sewage, water, housing, and employment problems.

According to Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA), which is constructing the project, the planned city is Pakistan’s first largest riverfront project spreading over 46 km with a total area of 110,000 acres.

More than 10 million residents will be able to live in the new city along the River Ravi banks.

According to HRW 85 percent land of the project is agricultural, occupied by nearly one million farmers, laborers, and business owners.

“Punjab provincial authorities have harassed and threatened area farmers to deprive them of their homes and livelihoods,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW.

Environmental experts say the project’s proposed changes to the flow of the Ravi River could significantly increase the risks of flooding.

Pakistan witnessed unprecedented floods caused by climate change in Sindh province last year.

“We are not forcing people out of their possessions but they are willingly leaving the place after they are compensated,” Muzaffar Khan, director of land acquisition at RUDA, told EFE on Tuesday.

As per the HRW statement, eight affected farmers, who challenged the legality of the land acquisition, have faced intimidation and criminal charges.

Since 2020, the authorities have criminally charged more than 100 farmers with resisting or refusing to hand over the land they owned.

However, the exact number of people affected or forcibly evicted could not be ascertained.

“In October 2022, the development authority filed criminal cases against at least nine farmers, claiming that they resisted handing over lands and houses that the government legally acquired,” the HRW statement said.

The farmers, in some cases, have said they had not consented to the acquisition and had received no compensation from the government, it said.

Farming is central to economic survival for families and communities in the country of 220 million population.

The absence of family planning makes the country among the fast-growing populations of the world.

Pakistani authorities are empowered with the British colonial government’s Land Acquisition Act of 1894 to acquire land for public purposes.

The law gives the government almost exclusive power to decide which land to acquire, destroying agricultural land and displacing locals.

Pakistan ranks 80 out of 113 countries on the global food security index and food safety score of 43.5, below the average score of 60.4.

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