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LHC Orders Halt to River Ravi Urban Development Project

by Newsweek Pakistan

Courtesy LHC

Justice Shahid Karim’s ruling declares land procurement process for PTI’s flagship project unconstitutional

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday ruled that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s flagship River Ravi Urban Development Project (RUDA) is unconstitutional and issued orders to immediately halt its construction.

Announcing the verdict during Tuesday’s hearing, after earlier reserving it, Justice Shahid Karim said the government had failed to fulfill the project’s requirements prior to commencing its construction. “Section 4 of the Ravi Urban Development Authority Act, 2020, is against the Constitution,” he said.

The impugned section states that the government shall “by notification in the official Gazette establish an Authority to be known as the Ravi Urban Development Authority for carrying out the purposes of this Act.” It adds: “The Authority shall be a body corporate, with perpetual succession and a common seal, with powers, subject to the provisions of this Act, to acquire and hold property, both movable and immovable, and may by the said name, sue and be sued. The Government shall review the performance of the Authority and may, from time to time, give general policy directions to implement such directions.”

However, per the LHC ruling, this violates a 1984 law under which agriculture land can only be acquired through legal means. By violating this law, the court maintained, the entire project had become illegal and declared the RUDA notification transferring 7,000 acres of agricultural land to the government as null and void. It directed the Ravi Urban Development Authority to immediately repay a loan of Rs. 5 billion it had obtained from the Punjab government for work on the project, stating it had been borrowed illegally.

In his verdict, Justice Karim also noted that the government had prepared a master plan of the project without seeking consultations from local and district governments.

The ruling was issued on a petition filed by a local resident, who had sought directions to halt smog and stop “illegal construction” along the River Ravi. “Large swathes of agricultural land is likely to be gobbled up, which would further hamper the biological diversity keeping in view Convention on Biological Diversity and public trust doctrine,” read the petition.

Inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Aug. 7, 2020, the $7 billion Ravi Urban Development Authority spans 46km and includes housing, commercial areas, hospitals and schools. In a message available on the official website of RUDA, Khan claims it would generate millions of jobs and wealth. “This shall save Lahore by stopping spread of unplanned urban sprawl, raise water level, revive river Ravi preventing it from becoming a sewerage nullah,” he said, adding that it would also attract investment from overseas Pakistanis.

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