HRW criticizes Pakistan for ‘forcibly evicting’ thousands of farmers.

Concerns are expressed by the rights organization over the $7 billion Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project close to Lahore.

Authorities in Pakistan have come under fire from a renowned human rights organization for “forcibly evicting” thousands of farmers for an infrastructure project close to Lahore, the capital of the eastern Punjab province.

Human Rights Watch recommended that the government “enforce environmental protections and reform colonial-era laws that grant the government broad powers to acquire land for private as well as public use” in a study released on Tuesday.

Imran Khan, the country’s former prime minister, announced the $7 billion Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project (RUDA) in 2020 with the goal of restoring the “lost glory” of the old city while also addressing concerns with pollution, sewage, water, housing, and jobs.

Khan had said at the project’s unveiling that it will also aid in addressing municipal issues in Lahore, the second-largest metropolis in the nation with a population of more than 13 million.

The original plan also included purchasing property to accommodate an additional 12 million people in order to build the “world’s largest riverfront city.”

However, the HRW claims that in order to acquire the required property, 85 percent of which was agricultural land on which nearly a million farmers, laborers, and business owners depended for their livelihoods, the government acted on behalf of private developers.

Even though their legal objections are still pending in court, the government’s Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA), provincial officials, and project developers are accusing affected farmers of crimes and intimidating them.

According to the rights organization, the Pakistani government has “criminally charged more than 100 farmers with resisting or refusing to hand over land they occupied” since 2020.

The project was deemed unlawful by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in January of last year because it broke the legislation governing the purchase of land and compensation. The farmers had filed a lawsuit with the LHC.

The country’s Supreme Court, however, partly overturned the lower court’s ruling a month later by stating that the project could only proceed on the property the government had already bought.

The farmers claim that despite the highest court’s judgment, the authorities are still seizing land, which the RUDA disputes.

At least 14 farmers, according to the HRW, who were spoken to early this year, said they had been either evicted or threatened with eviction by the government.

Farmer reports, corroborated by images and video, provide proof of intimidation, harassment, and the use of force to evict farmers. It has been difficult to ascertain the precise number of those impacted or forcefully evicted, according to organisations that represent farmers, the study added.

Environmentalists also cautioned that the project would change the Ravi River’s flow, dramatically raising the danger of floods, according to the HRW study.

Pakistan had not yet fully recovered from the disastrous floods of the previous year, which inundated over a third of the country.

28,330 hectares (70,000 acres) of the approximately 43,700 hectares (108,000 acres) of property requested by the government, according to attorney Fahad Malik, who is the lawyer for the farmers impacted by the project, is agricultural land.

Landowners “can realistically only question the amount of compensation being received and have little influence or say in determining the sufficiency or impact of the proposed ‘public purpose’ for which the land is being acquired,” Malik added.

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