Taking serious note over violation of stay orders granted in favour of small landowners and affectees of multi-billion rupee Ravi Urban Development Project (RUDP), the Lahore High Court on Tuesday issued notices to the Punjab government for today (Wednesday). While hearing petition of small landowners and affectees from the vicinity of the RUDP a single-member bench of the Lahore High Court’ Justice Shahid Karim also issued directives to the RUDP authorities to refrain from taking any further steps in the acquisition process. Talking to TLTP soon after the hearing, Mirza Mahmood Ahmad, counsel for the petitioners emphasized the need to replace the existing land acquisition law with modern legislation in conformity with the Constitution including resettlement rules and to halt acquisition of land for projects without consent of the land owners. Challenging the mode and manner of the land acquisition proceedings undertaken by the RUDA for the project, the petitioners claimed that the Land Acquisition Collector of the RUDA has passed as many as 18 awards of multi billion rupees on March 02,2021 without observing due process. The petitioners claimed they were not given a hearing opportunity in the process. They also assailed legality of forceful acquisitions of land for commercial purposes under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Reasonability of the project has been questioned as the remedy seekers in the matter have disclosed that the RUDA has planned to acquire a total of 102,000 acres of land for the project. They were of the view that as per the EIA report for the project, more than 77,000 acres of fertile irrigated land currently used for agricultural purposes, and forming the backbone of Lahore and its adjoining cities saying fresh produce needs is being repurposed for housing and urban development. The petitioner alleged that thousands of acres of forest land is also being repurposed for the same, adding that given the environmental hazards already plaguing the region. Appearing before the bench, Advocate Mirza alleged that the RUDA was offering the land forcefully acquired for a purported “public purpose” to commercial developers to establish housing estates and high rises to be eventually sold on commercial considerations for profit. He said that continuing with this project will completely devastate the ecology of the area. Mirza contended the project will even otherwise not have any benefit for the underprivileged classes of the province. He alleged since housing areas being developed in the project area are for profit purposes and not low income housing for the welfare of the poorer segments of society. “All of this being done for the elite of the country by dispossessing small farmers”, Mirza claimed, adding that land cannot be forcefully acquired on low rates by the government in order to unjustly enrich private investors. He termed the land acquisition proceedings were undertaken under a colonial law saying the act offends constitutional provisions including Articles 23 & 24. Mirza Mahmood Ahmad informed the bench that identical petitioners were under adjudication before the LHC saying despite multiple restraining orders of the Court in the matter, the RUDA’s contractors were making demarcations on the project land. To which, expressing displeasure on such blatant violations of the stay orders the bench summoned land acquisition collector of the RUDA on April 07 to apprise the Court on what grounds land of the affectees being disturbed, given the fact that the Court has suspended the acquisition proceedings. Justice Shahid Karim observed whether forceful acquisitions can still take place given the manner in which the law has evolved around the globe and the realisation that the fundamental right to land is of paramount importance. After hearing preliminary arguments, the bench issued notices to Punjab, the RUDA and Punjab government with directives to respond in the matter and adjourned the hearing for April 07 (today).