KARACHI: For the second time in a year, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) has cancelled its agreement with an entrepreneur, who had started an initiative to convert a decrepit amenity plot located in Clifton into an urban forest.
Shahzad Qureshi, an entrepreneur and the brains behind the urban forest project, was informed through an official letter, issued by the KMC’s Parks and Horticulture Department, that the KMC would look after the space itself now. The letter follows a similar one issued in September last year, when the KMC had cancelled the deal for the first time, saying the agreement was not being implemented in letter and spirit. Backlash against the KMC’s decision had later forced them to revoke the cancellation orders.
At the time the deal was signed, the KMC and Qureshi had agreed that the three-acre plot of land, which was then a garbage dumping site, would be converted into an urban forest by planting 50,000 indigenous trees in five years. The agreement was signed in March 2018 though Qureshi had applied for it in May 2017.
Adopting the Miyawaki method, Qureshi said he has planted 15,000 trees of 55 native species, developed an artificial lake as well as an organic vegetable garden. “We have converted a garbage site into a beautiful urban forest in just 16 months,” he claimed. He said that the vegetables produced in the forest were being provided to the community living nearby. Qureshi said. “We distribute the vegetables free of cost.”
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Qureshi said that no one from the KMC’s Parks and Horticulture department had met them before cancelling the five-year agreement. “The KMC has hung a notice on the main gate that it will look after the park’s matters from now on,” said Qureshi. “It is the second time they have placed such a notice since March 2018,” he added.
A Herculean effort
According to Qureshi, around 5,000 persons, including school children, have visited the park and planted saplings. “Thousands of people want to see this project mature,” he said.
“We should know the reason of suspension of the agreement,” he complained, adding that most of the parks, including the one in front of the urban forest, were dumping grounds. “You can see stray dogs roaming around in the KMC’s parks,” he justified.
Under the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013, the KMC is responsible for the upkeep of Karachi’s parks and playgrounds. Over the last few years, however, almost all the parks in the city have either been encroached upon or are in miserable condition. The KMC, for its part, claims it doesn’t have the funds for their upkeep.
Under the original agreement, Qureshi was supposed to develop the space as an urban forest and was responsible for its maintenance thereafter for a period of five years. The entrepreneur planned to develop a dense forest by following the Miyawaki method of growing plants, which enables a dense forest to grow in small areas 10 times faster than usual. This method was conceptualised by a Japanese botanist, Akira Miyawaki, who was also awarded the Blue Planet Prize in 2006.
The pilot project was carried out in a 400 square-metre area inside the same Clifton park in December 2015 by an Indian expert, Shubendu Sharma, whose company creates natural and native forests, along with Qureshi. There, up to 1,500 native plants had given the landscape the appearance of a small but dense forest with heights of a few trees reaching above 30 feet.
Qureshi believes the park he had established will not sustain for a longer period of time, if the KMC does not revoke the suspension orders. “I am trying my best to reach the senior KMC officials but I don’t think they take this initiative seriously,” he lamented.
Despite repeated attempts, the KMC’s Parks and Horticulture Director-General Afaq Mirza, could not be reached for comment. Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar was also approached for comment, but he too did not respond.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2019.