THE assault by an enraged group of farmers on a provincial revenue team assigned to acquire land for the multibillion-dollar Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project on Tuesday was unfortunate. But it was expected, and may also prove to be a harbinger of worse things unless the government agrees to give the market price of land to the thousands of landowners who would have to relocate because of the rulers’ insistence on building a new city on the outskirts of Lahore.
The poor farmers are apparently not against the project, but they rightfully want a fair market price to help them start over since the private developers for whom their land is being acquired will be raking in billions of dollars in profit. Currently, they are being offered only a fraction of the market value of their land. The Punjab government does not appear to be in any mood to listen to the grievances of the affected population, let alone agree to their demand for higher prices.
It is sad that Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to go ahead with the project although the PTI — when in opposition — had criticised such large brick-and-mortar, high-visibility schemes pursued by its predecessors. Apparently, the painful economic slowdown during the first half of Mr Khan’s tenure and the debilitating impact of Covid-19 on growth may have convinced him otherwise.
For the last one year or so, the leadership seems to have pinned its hopes on real-estate development projects for faster recovery before the next general election in 2023. The government may achieve some of its targets but in the process would lose the support of the poor who would be left out.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan’s ruling elite has developed a sort of consensus — as well as a deep economic interest — in high-visibility projects as the panacea for the nation’s financial woes. Therefore, we see most state resources flowing into expensive schemes offering limited economic dividends and that too mostly to benefit the wealthy. Look at the generous tax and other incentives announced for the construction sector in the name of encouraging low-cost, affordable housing for the poor.
The biggest beneficiaries of these concessions are moneyed people with questionable sources of income who have been given general amnesty and access to more banking credit. The obsession of the elite with real estate has in the last few decades also resulted in shrinking space for the poor and middle-income groups in our sprawling cities. This is not a recipe for progress.
If we are to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth, the government will have to change its priorities and start investing in social infrastructure — schools, hospitals, sanitation, water supply etc. It is time for the government to stop acting as an agent of powerful lobbies and start serving the public at large.
PAKISTAN received much less rainfall in January 2021 as compared to previous years, making it the 17th driest month in 60 years, according to the Met Office. Rainfall in February, as per the Met Office data, wasn’t significant either, but the countrywide rain in January was 59pc below the normal, indicating the possible impact of climate change. A drastic decrease was especially reported from Sindh, Balochistan and KP. The Met Office termed the trend ‘unusual’, saying that data for March would help it understand the phenomenon better. Still, the amount of rain received in January and February reinforces a declining trend during winter. Regardless of the extent to which the diminished rainfall in these months signifies climate change, it is evident that weather patterns, water availability, agriculture and the climate’s impact on the livelihoods of millions of people are becoming more pronounced with the passage of time. Pakistan is already on the list of the 10 nations most affected by climate change in spite of its negligible contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Numerous studies in recent years have found the country’s climate becoming increasingly uncertain, resulting in frequent and devastating flooding in some regions and droughts in others, glacier melts, and — more importantly — temperatures higher than the global average. These trends are likely to continue in future with parts of the country experiencing extreme weather conditions.
The sad part of the story is that we are not doing much to adapt to climate change, which makes us more vulnerable to its adverse impacts that may threaten the country’s food and water security and result in large displacements among the population. The impact of changing climate is already becoming conspicuous in some regions like Balochistan where tens of thousands of farmers have lost their livelihoods due to frequent drought conditions, leading to a significant increase in poverty and hunger. While some measures, such as the government’s tree plantation campaign, have successfully been implemented in certain areas, we do not see much seriousness on the part of policymakers to take more action to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. No effort in isolation will be able to alleviate the potentially disastrous impact in the long term. The government must develop a comprehensive framework linking its mitigation efforts to its industrial, agricultural, energy-related and other policies and enforce it in letter and spirit to reverse the impact of fast-changing climatic conditions.