By Waqar Mustafa
LAHORE, March 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, on Friday banned the development of new housing on farmland, in a bid to stop cities encroaching on agricultural areas.
Prime Minister Imran Khan told a ministerial meeting in Lahore, the province's capital, buildings should grow upwards rather than outwards and stop encroaching on farmland.
"High-rise buildings will be constructed instead of horizontal ones to minimise the use of land," Khan was quoted as saying by Shahbaz Gill, spokesman to Punjab chief minister spokesman, when contacted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
By 2030, more than half of Pakistan's projected 250 million citizens are expected to live in cities compared to 36 percent now, according to the United Nations.
The rapid growth of cities is expected to accelerate the conversion of farmland into built-up land in South Asia's fastest urbanising country.
In Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, nearly 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of farmland were converted to urban built-up land in the past 40 years and a substantial part of that land was converted to support over 250 housing schemes, according to a 2016 study by Pakistani academics.
Welcoming Punjab's decision, developers said a lack of enforcement of land use classifications brought in under the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had allowed land earmarked for agriculture to be used for housing.
"...in the absence of rules, certain unscrupulous developers used to buy...farmlands at cheap rates, pay taxes at lower rates and develop them into housing societies," Imran Iqbal Kahloon, a developer at Palm Villas, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Meanwhile, areas designated for housing would remain unused for years, Kahloon said.
"If rules are made and implemented accordingly, it would not only minimise the use of land but also keep us food-secure longer by saving farmlands," said Kahloon.
Development experts said it remained to be seen how the new policy will be implemented.
"The government statement is in right direction. However, it has yet to be seen how this statement is designed as a policy instrument and be implemented," said Iqbal Haider Butt, an independent youth and social development consultant. (Reporting by Waqar Mustafa, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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