The PMLN government is planning a new mega-project, the Ravi Waterfront, it will be identical to the Sabarmati Riverfront project in Ahmedabad, India. So much so that a 4-member team was recently sent to India to prepare a survey report regarding the Sabarmati project’s technical working and modalities so that it could be replicated on the river Ravi which is a kind of non perennial river.
It is puzzling why Nawaz Sharif’s government is impressed with Sabarmati, Modi’s pet project which received severe criticism at home and the public asked if it was for them or for the builders. Urban transformation also dispossesses the poor as happened in the case of the Sabarmati riverfront.
Riverfront development does not solve urban problems,it is merely an attempt at urban regeneration to create a recreation area. Sabarmati project unsettled millions of slum dwellers that are still to be rehabilitated satisfactorily, violent demolition of their homes led self employed people them to become charity seeking dependents. This adversely impacts citizenship rights in a myriad ways. Furthermore, intense cleaning is required to replicate such a project, in India itself it cannot be implemented on other rivers.
Modi says he ‘developed’ Gujarat as a model state, development means raising the standard of living of the masses and this never happened. Gujarat was never a ‘model state’, it was mere aggressive implementation of development on behalf of the big private investor. It was a model that worked for the rich and against the poor. Filling up a place with infra-structure does not necessarily benefit the poor who are further pushed to live in unhygienic conditions.
Now Nawaz Sharif has been working on the same track, beautification that is benefiting hordes of big-time private investors and no practical steps or real development to sort out Pakistan’s real problems.
Similarly, like Modi, he is doing nothing to improve the living standard of the poor or the general quality of life. Pakistan is on the brink of water scarcity, agriculture provides employment to half of all Pakistanis and accounts for a quarter of the GDP.
In this situation Pakistan should be building Bhasha dam which would cost Rs.1200 billion to execute on the whole. However it has been deferred till 2037.If dams are not built now, Pakistan will lose 30% of its water, not a single real development project is being implemented.
Priority has been given to the Ravi Waterfront project which is only urban landscaping providing maximum leisure space and possible protection of the river from sewer pollution, it is said to be on the pattern of River Thames that runs through London. It might add value to previously unused land, there are dreams of an exclusive city with its own airport with restricted access for public. There will be an interconnected skyscrapers complex which will have three skyscrapers to be built on Ravi Riverfront. The central tower will be Lahore World Trade Center, one tower residential and one a five star hotel.
What was the need for this leisure project/luxury resort costing Rs.700 billion, when the first priority should be tackling the energy crisis and storage of water.
River Ravi is a muddy pit for the better part of the year, as India keeps on diverting water to its side by building dams, the environmental condition of Ravi is becoming worse day by day and the river is acting almost a wastewater carrier. River Ravi originates in India and ends in Pakistan, it irrigates almost one million acres of agricultural land in India.
Ravi Waterfront could be flooded whenever India wants, with an upper riparian like India there is a need to be vigilant with flood management systems. The Indian projects on the Ravi include the 198 MW Baira-Suil Hydroelectric Power Project, the 540 MW Chamera-I, the 600 MW Ranjitsagar Multipurpose Project and the 300 MW Chamera-II so Ravi is of minimal use to Pakistan by the time it reaches here. The sources of rivers of the Indus basin are in India, Pakistan has use of the western rivers Jhelum, Chenab and Indus but for the development of projects on these rivers by India.
Furthermore, according to the Indus Basin Waters Treaty, three eastern rivers, Beas, Ravi and Sutlej were given to India and this has been a catastrophe for Pakistan because India never shared water shortages.
The Punjab government is anxious to get this project going on a fast track, the PMLN had wanted to do this same project in 1999 but their government was toppled around that time and they lost the opportunity. It might be surprising to know that the main investors for this project are Mian Hamza Shahbaz, Mansha group and Mian Amir, some Saudi investment is also being looked into and they have already visited the area.
Three bidders have applied for executing the project, Korean, Singaporean and a USA firm by the name of International Waterfront Consultants is the favored party likely to clinch the deal. A lot of activity has been happening in the background, a lot of patwaris and other officials were changed. Lands were purchased in Niaz Baig, Shahpur Kajran, Sundarand Chung areas by Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, these deals were done for him by Rana Tajamal MNA, Malik Riaz is the front man and has purchased lands at throwaway prices.
All these lands fall in the River Ravi Development Zone. Meanwhile, Mian Mansha has also purchased 650 kanals of land in Lakhodairo, located 8 to 10 km from the border with India and 800 kanals in the name of DG Cement factory. The third investor, Mian Amir has also purchased 350 kanal in Gujjarpura and Baghbanpura. And last but not the least, the glib tongued Najam Sethi has been transferred from the PCB to Member, Town Committee to expedite and facilitate this latest project with his sell-speak.
The Ravi Waterfront project means a windfall of profits for the friends and relatives of CM Shehbaz Sharif , Bhasha Dam obviously does not carry the same benefits so does not appeal to the current rulers. They don’t want to solve the water deficit and energy crisis, they just want to invest in beautification and decorative projects to earn profits.
How much longer will politicians put the country’s future at stake to fatten their wallets and what use is democracy when there is a friendly, manageable opposition that accommodates all the government’s business ventures. It is a waste constructing a water-front park city and mere beautification when there is worsening water shortage, what was more useful in the long run, Bhasha Dam or Ravi Waterfront?
By: Sabena Siddiqi
Note: Al-Rasub is not responsible for Writer personal opinion.