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          LAHORE: While the PTI-led government’s agenda included environment-friendly initiatives like Billion Tree Tsunami and the Prime Minister’s Clean & Green Pakistan projects, its departments are busy chopping grown trees near the Canal Road in Lahore, further depriving the city of badly-needed foliage.

          In the recent cull, as many as 64 grown trees of various species aged 20-25 years have so far been cut for laying a high-tension transmission line with heavy poles near Jallo along Canal Road, Dawn has learnt.

          “The trees are being cut these days along Tera minors (watercourses) originating from the city canal near Jallo. The tree chopping is being done on the request of the Lahore Electric Supply 福彩手机客户端 (Lesco) to lay a new transmission line in the area,” forest department Conservator Muhammad Niaz told Dawn on Sunday.

          “Under the law, cutting of trees is allowed if the government wants execution of any project in the public interest,” he clarified.

          5,000 trees cut during last five years in the name of development projects

          Lahore has been losing trees fast, as approximately 5,000 grown trees were cut during the last five years or so during execution of various infrastructure development projects. These include over 2,100 trees cut between August 2015 and April 2016 because of three projects -- Rs2 billion Signal-Free Corridor Project (from Gulberg’s Liberty roundabout to Shadman via Jail Road), over Rs160bn Lahore Orange Line Metro Train Project and around Rs1.5bn Canal Road Widening Project.

          The Signal Free Corridor Project (Gulberg) consumed 196 trees along its route from Liberty roundabout to Shadman’s Fawara Chowk. For the Lahore OLMT Project, 620 grown trees were removed on its 27.1km long route from Dera Gujran to Ali Town. And around 1,300 trees were culled for the Canal Road Widening Project at its three stretches.

          Similarly, for the completion of Link Canal Road from Punjab University land via Kareem Block, 120 trees (mostly of mango) were chopped.

          Another mega project -- Elevated Expressway from Gulberg to Motorway --- which was to be launched by the previous government, was supposed to consume over 1,700 trees, as it was to start from Babu Sabu (Motorway M2) and end at Zafar Ali Road/Main Boulevard, Gulberg, along the Cantt drain.

          However, the government could not launch this mega project due to lack of funds and prolonged litigation in the Supreme Court.

          Moreover, the authorities were also about to start cutting as many as 60 grown trees along Khayaban-e-Firdausi (from Shauq Chowk, Maulana Shaukat Ali Road and Allah Hoo Chowk to Shaukat Khanum intersection), which is known as main boulevard of Johar Town, on the pretext of launching signal-free corridor with protected U-turns. The plan to cut these trees was shelved in April, last year after the then Lahore commissioner intervened in the matter.

          Mr Niaz says, “As far as I know, the trees being cut are not the part of the canal heritage. However, all the trees planted along the main canal and greenbelts along the canal road are the part of canal heritage, being looked after by the Parks and Horticulture Authority.” He claimed that the trees being cut at Tera minors (near Jallo) are the forest department’s property. “Under this project, 64 trees were to be cut. And the work is almost complete,” he added.

          According to an official source in the forest department, cutting and selling of green trees is banned under the law. “Only cutting of dry (expired) trees is permitted under the law,” the official, who requested anonymity, maintained.

          Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2020

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