KARACHI: When the Green Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) speeds through the city, it will ironically be driving over the corpses of as many as 7,321 trees.
“Out of 7,321 trees that have to be removed for the construction of the Green Line, 6,321 are Conocarpus and Eucalyptus,” said Landscape Architecture Studio’s principal landscape architect, Komal Parvez, adding that these trees have already been banned by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) as they harmed invasive plant species.
The studio, which numbered the trees to be chopped down, has been hired as consultants by the Karachi Infrastructure Development Company Limited (KIDCL), which is managing the Green Line construction. The project managers plan, however, to replant over 800 of the trees once the construction is completed.
The Green Line BRT will run on segregated lanes, from Surjani Town to the Central District business area in Saddar. For a city severely lacking mass transit, the Green Line offers a much needed respite but it comes at the cost of nearly all the greenbelts in District Central. From Nagan Chowrangi onwards, the Green Line will run on the median – the central greenbelt of the road — lined with thousands of trees. Even in Guru Mandir, the Green Line will trample over some trees that date back to before Partition.
According to a labourer working at the construction site at Sakhi Hassan Chowrangi, several Neem trees have been chopped down already to make way for piling. However, an officer working at the Five Star Chowrangi site of the Green Line insisted they have only cut down Conocarpus trees so far.
In an attempt to justify the chopping down of trees, Parvez said this is the first time for any road project in the city that the contractors will replant 800 of the over 7,000 trees removed. However, her claim was rejected by environmentalist Tofiq Pasha, who said that several trees were transplanted when Shaheed-e-Millat Road was constructed.
Parvez elaborated that they are only replanting Neem, Barna and Lignum trees. Since these trees were planted years ago, they will be dug out of their present locations along with their roots and then replanted at another location, she said. “We will dig pits all around the trees to be transplanted and leave them for around two weeks,” she said, adding that that will normalise the roots with the climate.
Before extracting the trees out of the earth through huge cranes, Parvez said that they will trim them from above to reduce their weight and size. And then the trees will be replanted on two locations identified inside Mazar-e-Quaid. During the transplantation process, she said the trees will shed all their leaves. The process will be nothing less than a surgery for them, she explained. “The trees that survive will sprout leaves,” she said, admitting that there is merely a 30% to 40% chance that the trees will survive after being uprooted.
According to Central district municipal corporation’s (DMC) parks director, Akber Husain, there are hardly six to seven Neem trees that have to be transplanted.
Cost of transplant
Both KIDCL chief financial officer Bilal Memon and Parvez refused to share the estimated cost of transplanting these trees but the latter said that a contract will be awarded this month. Why is money being spent on transplantation despite the low chances of survival? Memon reasoned there main motive is to save a life and trees are living beings.
Environment expert Pasha claimed that the best season for transplantation is February and July. If trees are transplanted in May or June, they can never survive, he said. A Horticulture Society of Pakistan’s executive council member, who requested anonymity, also pointed out that there aren’t any chances of transplanted trees to survive before July 15.
Pasha was also sceptical about cutting down 6,321 Conocarpus trees. The government spent millions of rupees when it imported Conocarpus and now there are eliminating them just because they thought they are useless, he said. At least, hold responsible those who suggested importing them in the first place, he argued.
Old versus new
Apart from the transplantation, the Green Line contractors plan to plant 19,500 new trees, estimated to cost Rs88 million, according to KIDCL’s Memon. The location for these new trees, according to KIDCL site engineer Muhammad Qaiser, has yet to be decided by the KMC and the DMC. Another KIDCL official blamed the municipal departments of not being interested in new plantations as they have yet to give them a location despite several meetings. Parvez said that these new trees are likely to be planted in several parks. Meanwhile, Husain said that the location for planting trees will be identified with the consent of the KIDCL officials.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2016.