Human Rights Watch: Forced evictions of farmers for an urban project
Team Pakistan Intern,
Global Human Rights Defence
Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concern over the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, for which the Pakistani authorities are forcibly evicting thousands of farmers near the city of Lahore. The massive infrastructure project worth USD 7 billion started in August 2020 by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, claiming it would address the many problems of the area - pollution, sewage, water, housing, and employment (HRW, 2023). The project covers more than 100,000 acres along the Ravi River in the province of Punjab which makes it one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country (HRW, 2023).
In order to continue with the Ravi River project, the government had to acquire necessary property which is mostly agricultural land occupied by almost one million farmers, labourers, and business owners (HRW, 2023). Some farmers challenged the legality of the land seizures and consequently experienced intimidation and criminal charges brought by different actors involved in the project. Since the beginning of the project in 2020, the authorities have already charged more than 100 farmers who were resisting or refusing to give up their land, and faced intimidation, harassment, and use of force (HRW, 2023). Moreover, the project proposes a change in the flow of the Ravi River and this could increase the risk of flooding, which is already a serious concern in Pakistan after the damaging floods from last summer (HRW, 2023).
In January 2022, the Lahore High Court actually ruled that the Ravi River project was unconstitutional since it was not in line with domestic laws on the forcible acquisition of land and the process of compensation for those displaced as well as because of the negative environmental impact (HRW, 2023). However, this decision was later overruled by the Supreme Court, allowing the government to continue developing the land it has already acquired and paid compensation for (HRW, 2023).
Patricia Gossman, the associate Asia director at the human rights organization, shared her concerns: “Punjab provincial authorities have harassed and threatened area farmers to deprive them of their homes and livelihoods. The authorities need to ensure that government projects minimize displacement and loss of income, but also minimize environmental harm and flooding risks” (HRW, 2023). The government, Development Authority, and project developers should enforce laws regarding environmental protection and reform colonial-era laws in order to protect farmers from losing their lands and livelihoods.
Human Rights Watch. (2023, April 11). Pakistan: Farmers Forcibly Evicted for Urban Project. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved April 13, 2023, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/04/11/pakistan-farmers-forcibly-evicted-urban-project