As innumerous advertisement billboards crop up along the skylines in Karachi, the already scarce trees are being chopped down, raising the question of correlation between the two.
According to a former city Nazim, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation has turned a blind eye to tree cutting as they need the space for putting up billboards and other hoardings, reportedly a very lucrative practice for the administration. The former Nazim estimated that KMC earns Rs750 million per year through giving permissions for putting up hoardings.
Recently, the authorities chopped up half the trees behind the Bin Qasim Park and permitted advertisers to put up a number of billboards at the centre island [the patch of trees between two roads] in front of Dolmen Shopping Mall, Clifton.
A senior official of KMC’s advertisement department, on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the advertisement agencies first send a proposal to the city administration and if approved, they are given permission to put up the hoarding through a contract. The value of the contract is decided according to the importance of the location.
The other side
When contacted about the legal aspect of cutting down trees, KMC Council Director Gufran Ahmed said that the former city Nazim, Mustafa Kamal, had passed a law under which any act harmful for the environment was strictly prohibited. Unfortunately, the law is not being implemented while authorities are openly violating the rules and cutting down trees, he added. The newly appointed director of Parks and Horticulture, Ashfaq Mallah, was contacted several times but he refused to comment on cutting down trees.
The spokesperson for the director, Muhammad Azad Khan, simply stated that he had just assumed charge and had no information about this issue. When asked about the laws prohibiting tree cutting, he said, “There is some kind of a law but I am not aware of its details.” On the other hand, the former director of parks and horticulture, Abdullah Mushtaq, said that the KMC did not have any specific law which prohibits cutting trees. “We usually register the case against violation of government property,” he said, agreeing that cutting trees to make space for hoardings was a very lucrative business through which the city administration earns millions of rupees. “The current parks director is not capable enough to tackle this issue but due to an internal setting, he has been given this position,” alleged Mushtaq. “Earlier, we registered a case against the culprits who were involved in cutting the trees at Rashid Minhas Road and near Islamia College for violating government property.”
According to him, the department was aware that many trees were being cut to make space for billboards and hoardings but since millions of rupees were involved, the officials were reluctant to put a stop to the practice.
Hazardous for society
“Trees are the lungs of this city. If the authorities continue cutting them down, there will be serious health issues in the future,” said Khatib Ahmed, a member of the Shehri-Citizens For A Better Environment. “We should be planting more saplings instead of cutting down trees for profit.”
Multiple organisations and youth groups have taken it upon themselves to grow trees in the city but are disheartened when they see the grown ones being ruthlessly chopped down. “On one side, Karachi’ites are trying to save the city from environmental atrocities by planting saplings while the authorities have given permission to cut the old trees near the heavily polluted area of the Clifton beach,” said Khurram, a resident of the same area.
According to the deputy director of public awareness of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, Mujtaba Baig, the agency has not been approached about tree cutting in the city. “If we are told about any such incident, we will take action the people cutting down trees as they are increasing risks of health hazards,” said Baig.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2013.