Lahore: While the “sword” of the Ravi National Park still hangs over the heads of poor citizens, the Punjab government has introduced another alleged land grabbing scheme in the name of the Khadar Area project.
The government had silently notified the construction of the new project a few days back, aiming to usurp a piece of land spreading over 500,000 kanals.
The previous notification about the Ravi National Park scheme issued on April 23, 2009 – allegedly aimed at grabbing private property, covering 216 villages, 1,000 mosques, 200 schools, 200 graveyards and 140,438 acres of fertile agricultural land in Lahore, Sharaqpur, Ferozewala and Mureedkay – was still effective.
Over 1.3 million farmers producing crops worth 29.26 billion annually would lose their homes and livelihood if they are made to sell their land at throwaway prices under the land grabbing tactics used by the Punjab government.
Pleasing friends: The people have already alleged that leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz were responsible for the scheme, which has been launched to build a private estate for their Arab and foreign friends. However, the government has launched a new project in Lahore alone to grab a large piece of private property.
A senior bureaucrat of the Punjab government told Daily Times that the new project has been announced by declaring around 500,000 kanals of land in the city as “Khadar area” along River Ravi.
“The word Khadar may be new for several people, even in the bureaucracy, but it is used for an area where no construction or dwelling is possible due to its close proximity to the river,” he said.
No existence: The senior officer stated that the government is planning to grab a huge amount of land by declaring it Khadar area despite the fact that Ravi “died” after India constructed the Shahpur Kundi Dam on it and releases only a little amount of water into the part of the river in Pakistan only when faced with a threat of flood. He said this meant that Khadar area did not exist along Ravi.
According to the Lahore district coordination officer’s (DCO) notification regarding the Khadar area, the government has restricted citizens from any development in the area under the Punjab Land Use Classification, Reclassification and Redevelopment Rules, 2009.
According to the notification, the areas in Lahore Khas (Ravi Town), some areas of Shahdara, Sandha, parts of Data Gunj Bukhsh and Samanabad Town, Nawan Kot, Maraka, parts of urban and rural Niaz Baig, Chung and some areas from Allama Iqbal Town, Bhasin, Lakhodhair, Baghbanpura and other parts of Wagha and Shalamar Towns fall in this category.
Under the notification, only crops, orchards, pastures, dairy or poultry farms, forests, a nursery or greenhouse, tube-well, rural settlement or village, place of worship, graveyard and corner shops are exempted from the order.
The government has even set up teams of district officers (DOs) concerned, law enforcers, revenue officers, girdawars, patwaris, environment officers and town officers of the concerned areas to monitor these areas and take action against any private property holder who attempts construction on this land.
The teams have also been tasked with monitoring any violation of government orders and submit reports to the DCO office daily. The authorities have directed the demolition and removal of any illegal building with the help of police, town officers and the staff concerned, and register FIRs against the landowners and issue them notices.
Rana Tanveer, a local, told Daily Times that he had inherited a few acres of land in Ferozwala and it was really painful that the government wanted to deprive him of his ancestral land in the name of environmental protection.
Javed Hussain, a resident of the Bhasin area, questioned what kind of interests and environment the government was trying to protect by devaluing the properties of poor farmers and people living on the outskirts, and even in Lahore, when they had allowed all kind of traffic and industrialization in the heart of the city, especially around the Walled City.
He said it was the right of every land owner to decide what they wanted to do with his property, adding that the people will not let the rulers grab land from the poor under any circumstances.
However, Punjab government spokesman and Senator Pervaiz Rashid told Daily Times that the idea behind the Ravi National Park and Khadar Area schemes is only to protect the environment and reduce pollution in Lahore and other cities.
He added that Lahore had been ranked the most polluted city in the country and rapidly growing industries as well as deforestation on the outskirts of the city were the reasons behind it. The senator said it was the government’s duty to protect the citizens, while it was only trying to prevent further urbanisation and industrialization.
He said accusing the PML-N of building a private estate was “absurd”, as this is the only party that has paid the price for standing against foreign interests in Pakistan, while Ziaul Haq, Yahya Khan and Pervez Musharraf were the actual pawns of the Arabs and other foreign elements in the country. “We are a mainstream political party in Pakistan. Do you think we will be able to walk honourably among the people after doing such a ridiculous act?” Pervaiz asked.[Daily Times]