LAHORE: Public Trust and Urban Heritage Park in Lahore is under threat because of government of Punjab’s act to remove trees for widening Canal Road. According to environmentalists this is being done in the second most polluted metropolis in Pakistan.
Lahore Canal is an historical feature and one of the busiest routesof the city. It not only bearsa heavy flow of traffic but plays a vital role in absorbing air pollution and producing oxygen with its large number of trees.
But Lahore Canal is being changed under the government’s policy of constructing new roads. The government has chopped down more than 600 trees for extension of Canal Road.
This is the second project to avoid traffic congestion on Canal after 2009-2010 in which many hundreds of trees were axed to widen the same road and construct underpasses.
Cutting trees on Canal is prohibited and illegal according to the ruling of Supreme Court Pakistan given in 2011.
Imrana Tiwana, general secretary of Save Lahore Movement, talking to News Lens Pakistan, said the court had declared the Canal as “Public Trust and Urban Heritage Park” which is a milestone and different of its kind in the whole of Asia.
To save trees on the Canal, Punjab Assembly also passed “Canal Heritage Act 2013” in which act of construction, removal or damage of trees is considered as a criminal offense. This act applies on the area from Thokar Niaz Baig to Jallo Park, a long track along the canal where the violation of the law has taken place.
Recent Canal project will consume rupees 9 billion. Government officials are satisfied what is being done to avoid traffic congestion on Lahore Canal. “We have a plan to plant more trees as soon as road construction get completed,” Israr Khan Chief Engineer Lahore Development Authority (LDA) told News Lens Pakistan.“This plan is the need of the hour and will cater to the needs of the city.”
“Demolishment of trees and widening Lahore Canal can’t help you avoid traffic congestion because government’s department, National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK)contradicts what is being told to us by other agencies,” Imrana Tiwana told News Lens Pakistan.
LDA and Punjab government, as per law, were supposed to take no-objection certificate or environmental impact assessment from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) before the commencement of this project, Hammad Naqi Khan Director General World Wide Fund WWF said. “Unfortunately government didn’t bother that chopping trees will create health issues and will fuel warming in the city.”
Punjab Minister for Environment Shuja Khanzada said, “Clogging on Canal Road propelled us to widen it.” He said that it is government’s duty to take steps in favor of public interest.
He said, “It is not violation of the court’s orders but an effort to avoid traffic jam which is a big source of air and noise pollution in the city.”
Widening roads after sacrificing so many trees and greenery is not the solution to avoid congestion on canal, Tiwana said. She said only 8 to 10 percent population of Lahore uses vehicles, so these actions of government speaks volumes about its priorities.
She said pollution level is at its peak and deforestation might prove dangerous for the city.
Canal Road’s greenery is so important to reduce temperature and pollution, said Munawar Sabir, a professor of environment studies.
“The axed trees were more than 300 years old. Moreover, government has acquired about 38 acres of agriculture land from University of the Punjab, which is another step of increasing pollution and decreasing food production.” He further said hundreds of birds have also been displaced and there is no one to think about that number of birds is reducing rapidly in Lahore because of deforestation in the city.
Another environmentalist,Syed Muhammad Abubakar, said while talking to News Lens Pakistan, “Pollution level of Lahore is 14 times higher than the limits of United States Environmental Protection Agency and according to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization the deforestation rate in Pakistan is 2.1 percent, which is very alarming and will lead to catastrophe.”