“They have been felling trees here for quite some time. Most of them were cut down in the dead of the night till over hundreds of trees disappeared from the J-Block Nursery in Model Town,” a resident of the Model Town Society told The Express Tribune.
Yet Sahibzada Saifur Rehman, president of the Model Town Cooperative Society, says not a single tree has been cut.
The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) carried out a survey of the nursery on September 24 and reported that the society was apparently planning to build four restaurants in Linear Park, a commercial plaza in the J-Block Nursery and an amusement park in the Model Town Central Park without the mandatory prior approval of the EPA. The agency said that the management committee had also felled several trees without the society’s approval and was altering the layout of the society’s master plan in violation of Section 12 of the Punjab Environment Protection Act 2012.
The agency then issued the management a show-cause notice and gave the president of the society time till October 1 to submit a written reply on allegations of felling trees and commercialising areas in violation of the master plan. It is now over a month that the president has not replied, an EPA official said.
In March 2013, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court had stopped the J-Block Commercialisation Project, the Liner Park Commercialisation Project and the Model Town Park Commercialisation Project. The Model Town Cooperative Society had approved these projects at its Annual General Meeting on December 12, 2012, and construction had started at the Model Town Park.
Tanveer Ahmed, a resident of Model Town and one of the petitioners, said around 40,000 people lived in Model Town Housing Society and 4,000 of them were members of the Model Town Cooperative Society. The society elected a management committee. He said the incumbent management committee had carried out construction at the nursery in violation of the society’s master plan. Cutting down the trees had badly hurt the environment which could create health hazards for residents of the society, he said. “We cannot allow commercial activity beyond the master plan. It is Model Town Housing Society’s green landscape that sets it apart from other neighbourhoods, Ahmed said.
Last month, several residents of the Model Town Society filed an application to the EPA to stop the management from commercialising 52 kanals of the nursery and constructing plazas and restaurants.
On October 25, the EPA directed the management committee to stop construction and said the activities could harm the environment, ecology and bio-diversity of the area.
Most of the trees were over a hundred years old, Major (retd) Tallat Mehmood, a resident of the housing society, said. “Our ancestors constructed houses here because of the green environment of this place. The management wants to make it a commercial hub.” He said this would ruin the natural beauty of the place. “We do not have political designs. We just want to save Model Town from turning into a smoky commercial hub,” Mehmood said.
However, Rehman, the president of the society, said these applicants (including Mehmood and Tanvir) were not residents of the area. “They’re an opposition group that wants to malign the management committee with false accusations.”
He said the society’s management had planted around 100,000 trees since 2012. “We want to enhance the society’s environment friendly atmosphere,” he said. The EPA sent the management a show-cause notice regarding allegations of cutting trees, changing the master plan and carrying out construction in J-Block, he said. “We will reply at an appropriate time after consulting relevant laws,” Rehman said. The management is an elected body authorised to take such decisions, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2014.
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