The government’s plans to construct a new 480-acre industrial estate along Sargodha road, between Gujrat and Sargodha has been met with a snag. Landowners of the area are not willing to give their land up without a fight, resulting in protests on Wednesday outside the District Government Office, making the government’s job of placating everyone involved even tougher.

There are legal provisions for land acquisitions by the government, but these laws are made with the principles of good governance, and the state looking for the greater good of its own people in mind. Beyond that, both the federal and the provincial land acquisition acts also have mechanisms for the owner of that land to ensure that they have not been marginalised, in terms of being offered unfair compensation, or the government being unable to justify that acquiring the land really leads towards the best course of action. But these are legal considerations; politics is another matter. As it stands, the DCO of the area has made the protesters disperse by promising a visit to the lands in question and sweetening the pot by offering more in the way of compensation.

But perhaps the worst of this project will be borne by the farmers that are left behind. This is not just about the 480 acres that the government wants to take. Turning it into an industrial estate is going to have lasting consequences for the surrounding villages, and it does not look like the state has really thought this through. The people of the area deserve to be involved in something as monumental as this, which will leave irreversible effects for the environment.

Fertile land is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity across the country. Industrial complexes on the other hand, can be propped up anywhere. Horror stories of the future – of Pakistan losing its agricultural output and not making enough to feed its own people – are not as far-fetched as they are believed to be. We are on the cusp on an ecological disaster. We are a water stressed country and a net importer of food. This taking of land from the poor for the rich, for commercial gain, does nothing for our future development, unless development is defined as concrete buildings replacing harvest fields.

“Rendering sacrifices for the general betterment of the country” is what has been asked for from the farmers. Unfortunately, it’s always the poor that are asked to sacrifice. Entire families will have to be relocated, and that entails losing their livelihoods, which they will never fully recover from, not to mention that for many, their ancestral homes torn down and they will lose everything that ties them to their past.

It also means that the country is losing precious fertile land that it will never get back; is this really what progress is?