Yesterday, distraught protestors threatened to set themselves on fire if forced to give up their homes for the government’s Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project. The homes of those living close to the riverfront have come under the government’s planned development zone, therefore they will be required to vacate their homes for the building process. The RRUDP is a multibillion dollar project set to be built on a 100,000 acres along the banks of the River Ravi. The project is estimated to cost 5 trillion rupees, and aims to build a planned city on the Ravi riverfront whilst also rehabilitating the river to a freshwater body.
The protestors are refusing to vacate their homes, stating that they are mostly poor daily wage labourers and have built their homes with great difficulty after a lifetime of work. They appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Army Chief to help them safeguard their homes. The protestors told the media that they are concerned they will have nothing left to pass on to their children if their homes are razed to the ground by the government. The Punjab chief minister’s special assistant on information Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan clarified that the protestors will not be made to forcefully vacate their homes, and that they will be compensated with cash or a new home. She termed it a relocation and stressed it is not a displacement. Mian Mustafa Rasheed, brother of Punjab’s Housing and Planning Minister, has announced a protest in solidarity with the affectees of the RRUDP. The protest is to take place on the 26th of November, in front of the Punjab Assembly.
The previous PML-N government also floated the idea of an urban development project on the Ravi riverfront but found it unfeasible due to lack of resources. There is also a fear among residents of the area that the government will not pay them the market price of their land and instead force them to agree to compensation below the rate. There are also reports of different real estate groups and investors trying to cash in and buy land in the area before the government starts acquisition.