The residents of PECHS Block 2 were awoken on Monday morning to find out that the tree cover around the Khalid Bin Waleed Hockey Ground was chopped down by the Sindh government to make way for a boundary wall for a new Astroturf hockey ground. The people tried to stop the heavy machinery for two mornings straight but the damage had already been done.
Nearly half-a-century-old trees were ripped out from their roots and tossed aside. The spotlights and the bulbs that were torn down with the trees were installed with public money, according to the former councillor of the area, Javed Iqbal.
The incensed residents of the area protested and gathered signatures for a petition under the aegis of an NGO Shehri – Citizens for a Better Environment (Shehri-CBE). The stay order is effective till June 26.
The Sindh High Court issued a stay order on Tuesday against the administrators of District Municipal Corporation East and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation East to stop the work on overhauling of the hockey ground. Shehri says the project is simply destroying the environment for trying to commercialise the area.
Even the residents, including those who have been living in PECHS for decades, don’t buy what the government’s selling. “These were more than 34-year-old trees that were just ripped off without their roots,” said an angry resident who had come to protest against the project with Shehri. “This is just part of a design to commercialise this place! Do you think that the residents are so stupid as to just allow this to happen?”
Shehri’s Amber Alibhai said, “Two or three years ago they did the same thing and tried to put down Astroturf but nobody maintained it and it just destroyed the park. There isn’t even enough water for them to maintain an expensive blue Astroturf ground.”
Alibhai explained that the government should have asked each and every resident or businessman in the area before making a boundary wall. “These people have been living here for over 50 years and this is just a plot to eventually make the ground into a commercial academy right across the street from Qamar Ibrahim’s house.”
The current project to build the ground, which was inaugurated on June 12 is being undertaken by the Sindh government’s sports and youth affairs department as part of its annual development plan. More than 60 million rupees were allocated for this project, according to the sports and youth affairs secretary Mohammad Faheem.
He said that the Sindh government had nothing to do with the previous turf laid down in the hockey ground but the renovated ground will be state-of-the-art. “Those trees had to be cut,” he said. “A wall is absolutely necessary.”
Faheem said that no proper work was done on the ground before and the government has invited foreign experts to come and help out with the project. “The Astroturf is being imported from Holland,” he said. The trees will have to be cut if a wall is to be built. They will be replanted,” he assured. “But, I have no idea exactly how many.”
The managing committee of the project is being headed by a former renowned hockey player, Olympian Qamar Ibrahim, who sees this as a favour to the neighborhood. “So many Olympic hockey stars have come from this area, including myself,” he said while talking to The Express Tribune.
Faheem and Ibrahim both said that it will take about two to three months to prepare the base for the Astroturf and another seven months to complete the project which will also include a walking track, a block for offices and a sitting area. They insist that the ground will remain open to the public.
A resident who comes to walk in the ground every day from Garden East, said, “Nobody plays hockey here anymore. This was why the previous turf didn’t make any difference. They should provide opportunities for people but not by destroying what’s already present.”
The chief of the Karachi chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami, Muhammad Hussain Mehanti, also came to protest with the residents on Tuesday. “There are terrorists in this city who are grabbing every park to use for their own activities,” he said. “We have seen this happening before. They will slowly take control of the whole area.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2012.