LAHORE: Lack of concern at authority’s end has deprived the provincial capital of thousands of acres of agricultural land during the last two decades, posing a serious threat to the food security in the city.
At a time when the need for more food is growing because of an uncontrolled increase in population every year, more and more land is being taken over for housing schemes and other projects. As a result, land for agricultural purposes is shrinking with the passage of time, raising concerns for food shortage in the future.
At the time of partition of the subcontinent, Lahore possessed a total area of 177,204 hectares (437,880 acres). Due to unavailability of resources and absence of a land census, the total cultivated area could not be defined. However, according to a land census, the total cultivated area of Lahore was 166,862 hectares in 1972, which reduced to 81,040 by the year 2000.
With the increasing population in Pakistan, Lahore also witnessed a rapid growth in its population during the last two decades. According to the 1998 census, Lahore had a population of around 6.3 million which has now mounted up to 11 million.
Following the rapid growth in city’s population, authorities remained reluctant to make efforts to save the agricultural land of the city.
Lahore Development Authority (LDA), which is to be considered the sole authority regarding the city’s plan, also failed to cope with the issue as conversion of agricultural land into residential, commercial and other projects continued under its nose. An official in LDA, seeking anonymity, revealed that in 2004, during the Nazimship of Mian Amir Mahmood, LDA’s Metropolitan Department notified a master plan for Lahore (2004-2021) in which residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural areas of the cities were defined clearly. According to this plan, the agricultural land comprising BRB Canal, Hadyara Drain, Khaira Distributory, Bedian Road, Shalimar Link Road, GT Road and Burki Road were proposed for conversion into residential areas.
Besides LDA’s approved societies, many illegal residential societies and other localities have been developed on agricultural lands across the city.
Agricultural expert Dr Ibrahim Mughal said that the agriculture land of Lahore was capable of producing enough vegetables for the entire population of the city. “Due to a decrease in agricultural land, the local production of vegetable and fruits has been decreased up to 70 per cent in the district,” he said, adding that this scenario also poses a serious threat to food security as the production of edible crops like rice, wheat and sugar has also been reduced by 50 per cent during last two decades.
According to Mughal, around one lac acres of agricultural land have been converted to residential and other projects. He said that the rapid decrease in agricultural land is the major cause of Lahore’s underground water. He said, “If we talk about the situation of Lahore two decades ago, around 50 per cent of the area comprised of agricultural land. This land not just helped in producing vegetation but was also a major source of ground water recharging.”
He alleged that land mafia had been converting agricultural land to a residential area as approved by the authorities themselves. Beside this, Mughal also blamed the agricultural department which remained reluctant to save the agricultural land. “I have never seen or heard any official from agricultural department made a draft for the conservation of agricultural land or asked the parliamentarians to bring any legislation,” he added.
A senior member of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, while expressing his view, said that along with other provinces of Pakistan, Punjab has no land rule act, which is helping bureaucracy convert the agricultural land into residential and industrial zones. Seeking anonymity, he said that LDA remained reluctant regarding the agricultural land while preparing its master plans.
There was a time when the total vegetable production from Lahore was 15 to 20 tonnes per acre but, with the reduction in this land, Lahore’s market now receives around 1,500 tonnes of vegetable from other districts of the Punjab. The official commented and said that during Pervaiz Elahi’s tenure, Punjab government initiated a program for the farmers of Lahore, encouraging them to cultivate more and more vegetable so that price hikes could be avoided. “The programme was rolled back soon after his tenure ended. Instead of growing vegetables, people preferred to convert their lands into residential zones,” he said, adding that the officials of revenue department are also responsible for this because they permitted land owners for conversion.
According to senior lawyer Rafay Alam, lack of land management has also resulted in leap-frog or piecemeal development and undesirably low densities at the cost of prime agricultural land. Talking to Pakistan Today, he said that the conversion of precious agricultural land into residential societies has shifted the production of vegetable, milk and related products to other cities, which has caused a significant increase in prices. However, he does not believe that the reduction in agricultural land has posed a food security threat so far.
On the other hand, LDA recently started a new housing scheme on a vast area of 7,500 acres. Interestingly a major area of this scheme comprised of agricultural land.