Over 500 trees including 200 mature trees have been or will be removed as engineers build the Bus Rapid Transit System on Ferozepur Road, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Environmentalists said that that the removal of trees would further denude the city of its greenery and have negative consequences for the environment.
Sources said that most of the fully grown trees to be removed – many of them over 50 years old and with a girth of over three feet – were in the Lower Mall area. Some 10-15 old trees would also be removed from the Punjab University ground near the Old Campus.
The sources said that 250 trees had been cut down along Ferozepur Road. Sixty-seven palm trees planted on Circular Road between Taxali and Bhati Gate around a year ago had also been removed, of which at least 25 trees died during displacement. The surviving palm trees were to be replanted again between Farrukhabad and Begam Kot, they said.
Muhammad Yaqoob, the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) director for the Lower Mall, said that there was always a chance that trees would be damaged during displacement. He said that only trees in the central median on Ferozepur Road had been removed, while trees along the sides of the road would be removed after the authority receives instructions from the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency. He said that he was not aware how many fully grown trees were to be chopped down for the project.
An official working on the BRTS said that over 500 trees would be cut down. He said that new heavy machinery being used on the project had necessitated the removal of more trees from the sides of the road because it needed more space in which to operate than the machinery used previously.
He said that another public hearing concerning the BRTS would be held soon, as the earlier hearing did not cover the elevated bus track to be built from Qurtaba Chowk to Bhati Gate.
Under the law, for any development project costing over Rs50 million, officials must conduct a study and produce an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, detailing how the project will affect the environment. They must also hold a public hearing about the EIA while the project is still in the planning phase.
In the case of the BRTS, as with other recent infrastructure projects in Lahore, the government started building before compiling an EIA report or holding a public hearing to discuss it. The public hearing for the BRTS was held a month after the construction work began.
The BRTS official said that the public hearing was “just a formality” and a forum “where the NGOs and environmentalists can vent their anger”.
Environmental lawyer Ahmed Rafay Alam said that there were very few trees left in the city, though Lahore was meant to be famous for its greenery. “These trees are the identity of the city,” he said.
Asked why environmentalists and NGOs had not visibly protested or taken legal action against this felling of trees, as they had done with the Canal Bank Road expansion project, he said that they was no law preventing the government from cutting trees so there was little they could do.
He said that environmentalists had expressed concern about various aspects of the BRTS at the public hearing, but they had been ignored. He said that the fact that the hearing was conducted after construction began showed how little the government cared about the environment.
Alam said that the public hearing was supposed to have been only for the first phase of the project, from Chungi Amar Sidhu to Kalma Chowk. However, on arrival the participants were told that the hearing would cover the entire project. “We had only prepared questions for the first phase,” he said.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2012.