KARACHI: Imagine the Lahore city administration cutting down trees that line the city’s idyllic canal to make way for advertisements. Next to impossible, say Lahore residents. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will never allow it.
Sindh Chief Minister, on the other hand, not only allows the same in Karachi but looks the other way as thousands of trees are cut down by the city’s unrepresentative government stuffed with corrupt bureaucrats.
To add insult to injury, director of parks and horticulture department, Ashfaq Mallah, an unelected bureaucrat whose job is to protect trees, says he has not even noticed the cutting down of trees in different parts of the city. “I will check this tomorrow,” he says, when asked to explain.
In broad daylight, thousands of trees have been cut down in Karachi and the massacre continues daily. Outdoor hoarding companies say that they have permission but not to cut the trees. In different areas of the city, municipal employees chop down trees to make way for advertisements despite a court order that forbids this.
One such street, the boulevard that runs in front of Dolmen City Mall in Clifton, has seen almost 250 trees being cut down in three months to make way for advertisement panels.
Standing idle next to the butchered stubs of once lush green trees, 34 advertisement panels attached to street light poles are a sad reminder to the greed of the city government.
One resident said that the city has lost more lungs but no one has taken notice. “Nobody gets punished for such actions,” laments Anny Agha, a shopper who was waiting for her car outside the Dolmen mall. “People should run a campaign against it, otherwise the exercise of cutting trees will continue.”
Khateeb Ahmed, a member of NGO Shehri, said that such culprits should immediately be stopped through organised steps. But so far no one has raised a collective voice. Instead the civic authorities are looking for excuses to cut down more trees. The cluster of overgrown trees became a hideout for criminals and drug addicts, claim some. This is the justification for more destruction.
Zubair Zaheer, the director of an advertising company, Outdoor Unlimited, said that the billboards were installed with the permission of the District Municipal Corporations (DMCs) as well as the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). The company was not involved in chopping down a single tree in the area, he clarified.
When asked who had cut the trees, Zaheer said that he was unaware about that and only DMC or KMC could answer that query. “I don’t know who has cut down the trees. It’s not my concern. I have paid tax to DMC and KMC for the hoardings.”
Zaheer said that he had no idea about the planning and strategy of the government departments, saying, “I have no issue if the trees are planted again in the area.”
Mallah, said that he had recently assumed charge and had no information about this issue. Mallah, however, assured that he would visit the site and would ask the relevant department of the DMC about the matter as the area falls under DMC South’s jurisdiction. “Advertisers can take permission for the sign boards but no one has permission to cut down trees. Cutting trees is a punishable crime.” So far no one has been punished.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2013.