It is hard to miss the nicely-shaped, small bushes planted on the media along Shahra-e-Faisal. Indeed, they are beautiful, but cannot stop the scorching sun – once blocked by tall, leafy trees – from chasing passengers throughout the journey.
These bushes speak volumes about the city’s psyche – the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) has taken it upon itself to chop large trees across the city into small bushes because “they [the tall trees] are a security threat.”
What’s the rationale?
According to Abdullah Mushtaque, the director general of the KMC horticulture department, the preference for bushes has multiple reasons.
“Conocarpus – the species of trees planted in Karachi – is ideal for bushes, not tall trees,” he explains. “Also, the rate at which trees of this species grow means the KMC would need an army of gardeners to look after them. There are thousands of such trees in Karachi – taking care of them is not the only job we have.”
Partially agreeing with KMC’s stance and reasons for chopping trees into bushes, Sindh Social Forestry Officer Rashid Dahri says the fast-growing cornocorpus is destined to be trimmed. He urges the city to consider planting Lignum, a slow growing tree.
Mushtaque emphasizes that there are many positive points about the bushes – they are aesthetically pleasing, have caused a decline in road accidents, and have reduced pollen allergies.
He adds the security, obviously, is a main concern.
“Overgrown trees are a security threat as they block the view for pedestrians and CCTV cameras. Criminal elements find great hiding places under trees,” he states.
(Above) Results from The Express Tribune survey on urban forestry
According to Mushtaque, Karachi is green enough, even when compared to other big cities, such as Lahore and Islamabad.
“The amount of money Lahore spends on the seasonal plantation of flowering trees is manifold higher than what we have; Lahore has a separate horticulture authority that looks after the trees, with millions in funds,” he explains. “In fact, the Lahore authority recently bought seeds for flowering plants worth Rs40 million – that’s the scale of their work.”
He says that KMC doesn’t have funds to pay salaries and hence it cannot spend as much as Lahore.
“The reason why Lahore appears prettier than Karachi is that it spends so much money on beautification,” he asserts.
Not the best choices?
KMC’s choices do not seem to resonate with many. Dahri believes that bushes are, in large part, useless.
“The city needs trees not bushes; less leaves, less oxygen,” he explains. “Also, the KMC should not have planted one type of tree across the city.”
Slamming KMC’s security-related argument over chopping trees, the social forestry officer says the crime rate has not decreased. Dahri also laments the lack of coordination between various departments and stakeholders — the KMC, cantonment boards and Defence Housing Authority should work together.
A grey land
Shehri’s General Secretary Amber Ali Bhai, too, rubbishes KMC’s claims for chopping down trees.
“For a city of 18 million bursting at the seams, what has the horticulture department done to make the lives of its citizens a little peaceful, a little soothing?” she asks rhetorically. “They are sitting on a press button to destroy trees.”
Highlighting the systematic corruption and the damage it has done to the environment, Amber accuses people involved in planting cornocorpus of dishonesty.
“The cornocorpus is not the right plant; the person who okayed its plantation must have done so to make money. The seeds are cheap to purchase but the bill must have been hefty,” she alleges.
Speaking about the importance of urban forestry, Amber says trees have a relaxing psychological effect on the people.
Mushtaque agrees with this. The director general believes every open space should be occupied by trees, but the government should not be left alone to take up the task. “We all want to walk under shade, park our cars under trees but we don’t want to plant them,” he says. “Other cities are greener because of favourable climate but also because the residents of Lahore and Islamabad are fond of Mother Nature, whereas people in Karachi are not.”
And yet, Amber points towards cities around the world that despite being concrete jungles offer green respite to their citizens. She cites the example of Central Park in New York City.
“What does the KMC offer us?” she asks. “Karachi is like Star Trek – a grey place with no green.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2013.