pakistan farmers are evicted forcibly for an urban project
Human Rights Watch reported today that thousands of farmers are being forcibly evicted by Pakistani authorities to make way for a sizable infrastructure project near the city of Lahore.
The government should enforce environmental regulations and rewrite laws from the colonial era that give the government broad authority to purchase land for both public and private use.
Imran Khan, who was prime minister at the time, announced in August 2020 that the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project would address many of Lahore’s issues, including pollution, sewage, water, housing, and employment while restoring its “lost glory.” One of the biggest infrastructure projects in Pakistan is the 5 trillion Pakistani Rupi ($7 billion at the time of writing) government project, which spans more than 100,000 acres along the Ravi River in Punjab province. With a population of 12 million, the proposed plans would produce the “world’s largest riverfront city.”
According to Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, “Punjab provincial authorities have harassed and threatened area farmers to deprive them of their homes and livelihoods.” The authorities must make sure that government projects reduce risks of flooding and environmental harm while also minimizing evictions and income losses.
The government acquired the required property, 85 percent of which is agricultural land used by nearly one million farmers, laborers, and business owners, on behalf of private developers to advance the Ravi River project. Even though these legal challenges are still pending in court, the government’s Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA), provincial authorities, and project developers have intimidated affected farmers and filed criminal charges against them.
Environmental organizations are worried that the project’s suggested modifications to the Ravi River’s flow may significantly raise the likelihood of flooding. In the middle of 2022, the Sindh province of Pakistan was devastated by floods.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 8 lawyers, environmental rights activists, journalists, and 14 farmers who claimed they had been forced out of their homes or faced eviction threats in Lahore since August 2020 between February 1 and March 1, 2023.
More than 100 farmers have been criminally charged by the authorities since 2020 for resisting or refusing to relinquish land they were occupying. Farmer reports, corroborated by images and video, provide proof of intimidation, harassment, and the use of force to evict farmers. It has been challenging to determine the precise number of those impacted or forcibly evicted, even by organizations that advocate for farmers.
The Lahore High Court declared the Ravi River project unconstitutional in January 2022. The project’s environmental impact assessment, the process for compensating those who were displaced, and the forcible acquisition of land were all deemed infractions by the court. The government was only permitted to continue development on the land it had already acquired and for which it had made payment to the Supreme Court, which partially overturned the Lahore High Court’s ruling the following month.
Farmers and activists claim that the Development Authority has continued to seize land despite the Supreme Court ruling. They petitioned the High Court in November 2022 to have the Supreme Court’s ruling enforced. Farmers were not evicted forcibly, according to the Development Authority.
The Development Authority accused at least nine farmers of resisting the transfer of lands and homes that the government had lawfully acquired in criminal cases they filed against them in October 2022. The farmers have disputed this, claiming that the government had not compensated them and that they had not given their consent to the acquisition.
One farmer complained to Human Rights Watch that the government was not only evicting his family forcibly but also refusing to provide fair compensation even though they had lived on the land for three generations. “The government says they want to build a new city, but why do they need to destroy the city and lives that we already have to build a new city?” asked a 60-year-old farmer whose land had been taken.
Agriculture is essential to the economic survival of families and communities in the Ravi River region, as it is throughout much of rural Pakistan. When farm families lose their source of income, the effects are frequently severe. Farmers are frequently forced into jobs for which they lack the necessary skills and produce significantly less income without the ability to cultivate the land and sell crops, which ultimately pushes them into poverty. According to a farmer, the government is displacing productive land that feeds not only the farmers but also the entire city of Lahore with a concrete jungle that only serves the interests of wealthy individuals, government officials, and real estate developers.
Human Rights Watch spoke with several families whose land and source of income had been taken away, leaving the farmers’ families insecure and penniless. Pakistan must make sure to safeguard its citizens’ rights to land and a means of subsistence as it works to build new infrastructure.
To make sure that the country’s laws are fair, open, and compliant with Pakistan’s obligations under international law, Gossman said Pakistani authorities urgently need to reform colonial-era land laws. The government is obligated to provide for the resettlement and rehabilitation of those who have been displaced as well as to make up for lost land.
Standards of International Human Rights Concerning Forcible Evictions
International law holds that the Land Acquisition Act’s provisions allowing for forced evictions and the lack of a framework for a remedy violate fundamental human rights.
“Forced evictions” are described as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection” by the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Forced evictions are a “gross violation of human rights,” the commission declared.
Forced evictions are, according to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 26, “prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant,” which offers authoritative interpretations of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, to which Pakistan is a party.
Everybody should have a reasonable level of tenure security that ensures legal protection from forcible evictions. Governments are required by the Covenant to respect the legitimate tenure rights of land users, including by refraining from evicting occupants from the land on which they rely for their livelihoods.
Only laws that uphold the human rights standards of reasonableness and proportionality between the government’s legitimate objective and the consequences for those evicted may be used by the authorities to carry out evictions. To achieve this legal goal, evictions must be the least restrictive option possible, and the impact on those who are affected must be outweighed by advancing the general welfare.
Forced evictions are considered “gross violations of a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the human right to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.
According to the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, authorities must ensure that evicted individuals or groups have “safe and secure” access to food, clean water and sanitation, modest housing, necessary medical care, and education for children in addition to paying compensation.
Environment-Related Issues , Pakistan
The Lahore Conservation Society’s findings that the proposed changes to the river are ecologically unsustainable were used by the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to declare the Ravi River project to be environmentally, ecologically, and financially unviable. According to environmental experts, paving over farmland and constructing barrages and other types of dams on the river may raise the water levels upstream and cause flooding.
The project is not unsustainable, according to the Ravi Urban Development Authority, which also claims that it will include “eco ponds, wetlands, [and] wildlife sanctuaries” and increase “green cover.” The authority carried out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), but since it was done by an unregistered environmental consultant, rights advocates, and lawyers have questioned the validity of the EIA.
Environmental impact assessments for infrastructure projects in Pakistan have a history of being of poor quality, and in 2017 the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency started requiring registered EIA consultants. Prominent ecologists, sociologists, and attorneys criticized the project in a June 2021 opinion piece, noting that despite their concerns, the assessment had described the project’s effects on ecological resources as “long-term and irreversible.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the government’s unchecked power to seize agricultural land for urban development could have a significant impact on Pakistan’s ability to feed its people. Pakistan already has issues with food security, which rising inflation and climate change have made worse. The proportion of land used for agriculture in the greater Lahore area has decreased from 54% in 1972 to 35% in 2009. Although reliable up-to-date statistics are unavailable, given the rapid urbanization since 2009, the percentage is likely to have decreased even more.
The Lahore High Court ruled that only extreme circumstances could justify the acquisition of land used for agriculture by RUDA and that in those instances, the legal framework must call for allocating a reasonable amount of land that could be put under cultivation to avoid upsetting the balance of food security.
Pakistan receives a food safety score of 43.5, which is below the average score of 60.4, and ranks 80 out of 113 nations on the global food security index. This merely means that to safeguard its conception of food security, Pakistan must act urgently to prevent the loss of agricultural and cultivated land.
Tahir, a vegetable farmer who may soon be evicted as a result of the RUDA project, expressed his worries for both the farmers in the area and the residents of the area around Lahore:
The entire Lahore region receives its vegetables and other crops from this area, which is known as the “breadbasket” of Lahore. Due to a lack of available fertile land and the paltry compensation offered to us, all of us will now be evicted, and there is nowhere in the vicinity of Lahore where we can resume farming. As a result, not only will the majority of Lahore struggle to eat because they will have to buy their fruits, vegetables, and crops from far-off locations and pay more for them, but also we will.