Not too long ago, the walk from Samra’s home to the bus stand on the main University Road in Karachi was pleasant, even in the scorching summer heat. As she strode towards a 45-minute-long ride in a crowded public bus, the leafy big trees dividing the road from the service lane provided shade.
Things are different now. Those trees, once her therapeutic protectors, are now gone, all in the name of ‘trimming’.
Samra is not alone in her disappointment. Similar incidents of trimming have been reported all over the city, including Shaheed-e-Millat Road, PECHS and the Boat Basin area.
Coincidentally, this trimming is usually followed by the placement of new billboards, and other forms of outdoor advertising.
All about the money
According to Roland deSouza of Shehri, a non-governmental organisation working for a better environment, it is no surprise. Speaking to The Express Tribune about advertisement boards replacing trees in urban cities, he said “the bottom line is: billboards make money, trees don’t.”
Criticising the placement of many hoardings, deSouza said they can be fatal during the time of a disaster. “They violate the advertising laws as legally they should be placed within a certain distance and should be of a certain height,” he said. He added that the carbon situation across the globe demands we plant more trees but the opposite is happening in Pakistan.
Shehri’s General Secretary, Amber Alibhai pointed out that most of the new billboards are placed in areas that fall under navy housing schemes. She said such areas don’t come under KMC’s jurisdiction and have their own advertising rules.
Commenting on the recent KMC drive to trim the city’s greenery, Alibhai criticised the way the trees were placed in the first place. “The trees were not planted strategically,” she said, adding that they should have been groomed before they grew too big to block the view – a reason given by the KMC for recent cutting.
KMC needs money generated by outdoor ads
Former head of KMC’s parks and horticulture department Niaz Soomro said KMC has to accommodate outdoor advertising as it generates a good amount of revenue for the corporation.
Soomro stressed that trees are not being cut but just trimmed, adding that the trees – most of which were planted under the last City District Government of Karachi – have outgrown and are causing traffic problems.
Spelling out the official policy, he said only trees planted between two main roads are trimmed and those on either side of the main roads are not to be touched.
Adding to Soomro’s points, KMC horticulture department’s current Director General Abdullah Mushtaq said the trimming done by KMC is to make the bushes look beautiful and that it has received positive feedback from the general public.
Pointing out that trees were planted in multiple rows on the green belt, Mushtaq said if trees were planted intelligently, in just a single line and at a decent distance from each other, KMC would not have trimmed them so brutally.
He clarified that the cluster of overgrown trees became a hideout for criminals and drug addicts. “Many of these trees grew as big as the street light poles erected next to them,” he added.
The director general said many a time, companies that put up advertisement boards illegally cut trees at night or on a holiday and put up their billboards. “We, at KMC, complain against those involved in this illegal act but in the end, it’s the police’s responsibility to act against them,” he said.
A senior ranking official from the former City District Government Karachi alleged that the KMC was taking money from advertisers and replacing trees with billboards.
Criticising the current municipal regime, the official said cutting trees is not the only issue and that the KMC has ruined the entire city.
Slamming KMC’s reason for putting up more and more advertising boards, Muhammad Tahir Qureshi, senior adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said it is a very weak argument as the corporation collects revenue from multiple sources such as Octroi Zila Tax and various property taxes.
The IUCN is an international organisation working for protection of environment.
He further criticised KMC for the green chaos in the city as he said there is no collaboration between the departments responsible for plantation and outdoor advertising. He said better coordination between these departments can reduce such incidents.
Speaking about the legislations protecting trees in Pakistan, Qureshi said, “There should be separate, precise laws for trees planted in city areas.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2013.