January 5th, 2021
By Hamid Riaz
Despite the fact that the Lahore High Court has ordered the Ravi Urban Development Project (RUDA) to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to the Environment Department, no such report has yet been submitted. The court order was released on December 31, 2020.
Meanwhile, environmental experts, activists, and civil society organizations have lauded the judgment by the Lahore High Court (LHC) which directed the newly formed Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) to stop all the development work on its coveted Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project (RRUDP).
The judgment declared that there was a lack of fulfillment of legal formalities on the environment.
According to the law, all large scale development projects that can pose a potential threat to the environment are required by law to submit an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report to the concerned Environment Protection Department (EPD) for approval.
Only after the EIA has been analyzed and approved by the environment department, can work begin. In addition to being submitted to the EPD, best practices also dictate that the EIA must be a public document and should welcome inputs by local stakeholders, who will face the brunt of any climate calamity.
Civil society representatives expressed astonishment and anger at the fact that construction work began on the project without following the proper environment protocols, but the RUDA has denied that any work has begun on the project, insisting that the project is merely in the planning stage.
In its defense, the RUDA apprised the court that the body’s chairman has already submitted a letter before the director of the EPD to inquire about the due process, legal requirements, and proper format of an Environment Impact assessment report.
RUDA maintains that it will file an EIA as soon as the EPD responds to its inquiry and that due process of the law will be followed throughout the development works. (a copy of the letter is available with voicepk.net).
RRUDP was originally conceived by the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) government in 2005. Ever since then, successive governments have played around with the idea of executing it but no significant progress has been made so far.
The current Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) regime has also taken an interest in the project. Residents of the lands where the project is slotted to begin, have told voicepk.net that the current regime seems more serious about executing the plan than its predecessors.
For this reason, the PTI government in Punjab passed the Ravi Urban Development Bill in August last year formally laying the foundation of the RUDA.
The bill and the authority it birthed have been termed authoritarian and draconian by many legal experts because it gives sweeping powers to officers of the authority to summarily evict people from the lands they are occupying.
In its current form, the Ravi River Front Urban Development Project aims to channelize the Ravi by building barrages over a stretch of about 46 Km of –populated- land covering over 1 lac acres.
In addition to setting up water treatment plants to clean Ravi’s water, the project also envisages modern cities on both sides of the channelized river. Locals currently living on the land have severe apprehensions about a possible land grab in the garb of development.
Environment experts like Vaqar Zakriya have criticized the government’s scheme and have called it misguided presenting alternate solutions that will not only ensure a clean but also a living river.
Even though civil society organizations have celebrated the Lahore High Court’s decision the body of the order and the legal formalities it points towards suggesting that this will be a temporary halt to an otherwise grand project.