In yet another example of greed and short-sightedness, Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) Vice-Chancellor Dr Mujeebuddin Sahrai, through a “Tree Auction Committee” allowed the cutting down of fifty healthy trees only to raise money for the university to the tune of a measly Rs250,000.
The 50 trees included local varieties like Neem, Seesham and others. It is a shame that this massacre was carried out and that too, ironically, at the premises of an agriculture university. The loss is irreplaceable. It will take another fifty years for us to have trees of such size in place of those cut down.
I wonder why universities need to make such money. Whose bright idea was the “tree auction committee” in the first place? Do these characters not realize the benefits a tree provides to people around it? Unfortunately, trees are apolitical. They are somewhat like Pakistan’s marginalized communities – the majority of Pakistanis don’t care about them and when they are attacked, injured or killed, few shed tears for them.
There is a lot of talk about the weather and of water these days. While Pakistanis blame weather changes and lament the absence of rains and subsequently the shortage of water, nobody talks about the general attitude to cut trees at the drop of a hat. Whether it is the expansion of a road project or a mass transit scheme, the first casualties are trees, But it does not end there. A recent food festival in Karachi at a park led to the cutting down of trees to improve the view. And this festival was sponsored by a leading international beverage company which would have been taken to task if it did the same anywhere else in the world.
People talk about building dams, What we should be doing is planting trees. Thousands of trees were cut down some years back by the PPP-led Karachi local government only to accommodate huge, ugly and unsafe billboards. While there is a lot of talk of the suitability of the tree variety Conocarpus, native to tropical regions of the world, nothing is done to replace the tree - all the effort is to have it cut down.
There is also a “maali-mafia” in place here. I recall once a friend of mine in DHA Lahore was told by his gardener that the tree outside his house was unsafe and had to be cut down. Later it transpired that the tree was perfectly fine but that the gardener wanted to make some extra money. It is a common practice amongst many of us to listen to greedy people whose short-sightedness leads to such environmental mistakes. Use your common sense.
So what have we done to plant trees? Next to nothing. Ten years ago when Mr Zardari was president, a massive plan was unveiled under which thousands if not millions of trees were to be planted all over Sindh. The only memory of that grand scheme is some plantation of neem trees as one goes on the highway from Karachi to Thatta. Other than that the landscape of Sindh is barren - a testament to the level of commitment that different rulers have shown the province. The next round of leaders did not even bother with trees or parks. They were happy such things existed in Lahore, which was enough for them.
If that is not all, the timber mafia is active in all provinces of the country. Whether it is Azad Kashmir and the upper parts of the country, where landslides are becoming increasingly common to KP and Punjab where soil erosion as well general change in climate is affecting crops and temperatures, not much is being done to plant more trees.
There is little or no legislation in place to protect trees. Our government officials are oblivious to the benefits that trees provide us. Our lower-grade employees are more interested in cutting down trees as they bring them some extra pocket money.
The only example that we have in Pakistan of changing things for the better with the plantation of trees is Islamabad - but that too was done in a somewhat haphazard way and even many of those trees have been bulldozed over the past years - victims of the so-called development that our rulers are so obsessed with.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2018.
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