March 3rd, 2021
By Hamid Riaz
A brawl broke out between employees of the revenue department and protesting farmers in the village Bangla Babakwal of Tehsil Ferozewala, yesterday on March 2.
Employees of the revenue department and local patwaris called a public meeting with farmers of the area to discuss the ‘acquisition’ of their land by the government for the coveted Ravi Riverfront Urban development project. However, no injuries were reported.
Following the incident, the local police lodged an FIR against 80 to 90 unknown people.
The Ravi River Front Urban Development Project
The Ravi Urban development project is the government’s grand vision of developing a city on a 46 Km strip of land on both sides of the Ravi straddling Lahore and Sheikhupura.
Prime minister Imran Khan has called the project a game-changer for the local economy. The government projects that the project will be able to fetch an investment of Rs. 5000 Crores in the first phase alone.
In addition to boosting the local economy, the project also aims to ‘revive’ the river Ravi by developing a string of water filtration plants and channelizing the river flow.
A vast majority of the 1 lakh residents occupying the land have rejected the project calling it an attempt by the government to forcefully evict them from their ancestral land and handing it over to billionaire property tycoons who will, in turn, make huge profits by commercializing it.
Residents of the land have told Voicepk.net they are willing to kill or be killed for their land and have staged several small-scale protests in the past. Even though plans for the projects have been around for almost two decades now the promulgation of the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) law which empowers the RUDA to ‘summarily evict’ residents have aggravated the fears of the residents.
“The public meeting felt like a set-up from the beginning. The local patwaris and junior-level employees of the revenue department asked the farmers to gather.
A large contingent of police were already present on the scene, anticipating unrest,” explains Mazhar the official spokesperson for the union of RUDA affectees.
“Even though we smelled trouble from the start many residents and farmers decided to attend the public meeting. As soon as the meeting began the government employees started announcing ‘acquisition rates’ for the land.
It was unilaterally announced that the compensation amount per 1 acre of the land will be a mere 2.12 Lakhs. Which ridiculous compared to what the farmers and residents can fetch in the open market,” continues Mazhar.
Mazhar explains that the farmers were angered by the ridiculously low figure offered by the government because of which a verbal spat broke out between the government employees and the farmers.
“The government abused the farmers and threatened them with eviction if they did not accept the low amount unilaterally ordered by the government,” The verbal spat soon evolved into a physical confrontation and a mob of angry farmers charged the government’s representatives. The employees ran away and took shelter in government quarters situated near the scene. “The situation got out of control, I agree but we made sure that no one was harmed,” asserts Mazhar.
Civil society activists present on the scene confirmed the farmers’ version of the events. “We were present there at the time of the scuffle and witnessed the entire event”, states Dr. Ammar Ali Jan.
The farmers were angered by threats leveled against them by the government employees and went on to destroy chairs and other property. “But no employee was beaten up or harmed by the farmers,” asserts Ammar.
What is in the FIR?
An FIR of the incident was lodged late last night against 80/90 unknown people in the Ferozewala police station under; charges of theft, property damage, obstructing public servants, rioting, unlawful assembly, and intimidation was leveled against the protestors.
In the FIR the complainant Muhammad Shafique, a government employee, claims that he was discharging his government-mandated duties when he and other government employees were attacked by a mob of farmers who injured one employee, destroyed public documents, and leveled death threats against on-duty public servants. Muhammad Shafique also listed down several witnesses to attest to his version of events.
The police on the other hand have not started investigating the truth of the matter. “The FIR was lodged late at night and I have not been able to properly study yet,” claims the investigating officer of the case. “Additionally, the scene of the incident is miles away from the police station and I have not been able to visit the area so far. No arrests have been made in relation to the incident and no raids are being conducted,” assures the police officer in charge of the investigation.
Since the announcement of the project by PM Imran Khan, discontent has been boiling in the area. Several small-scale protests have already been organized by the residents with whispers of a large-scale agitation echoing in the area.
“We all know that an FIR nominating unknown people is like a hanging sword. The government can implicate anyone they want which puts us in a very precarious situation,” points out Mazhar. The farmers have already begun contacting lawyers to prepare for a prolonged legal battle. But the farmers’ will to fight for their land has not waned one bit.