LAHORE - It seemed as if hell had broken loose on Thursday noon. Within minutes bush fire swept across the area for kilometres as flames ended the natural habitat of so many animals, birds, insects and trees at Changa Manga, the planet’s largest artificial forest. The noise of perturbed animals and birds pierced through the sky but no one heard, and perhaps nobody cares among the authorities.
Forest fire is something I witnessed for the first time. Since weather conditions are dry these days and shrubs easily catch fire, the speed at which the flames spread was amazing. Cloud of black smoke could be seen for miles. I was a long distance away and went to witness the gory act by miscreants to cover up heavy logging and sale of cane. Upon reaching near, I was able to take five to six images in about 40 or 50 seconds.
“We will be caught in the fire and there would be no escape,” the driver shouted at the top of his voice. The fire roared as it spread and the heat was as intense as we had never felt before. As we rushed out of the spot at top speed we realised that had we stayed a minute more it would have been disastrous.
The local people say such fires are common these days. An official confided to this scribe that nearly 50 percent of the forest is gone. It is sheer cruelty to start such fires in the habitat in the breeding season of animals and birds. The civil society organisations, animal protection NGOs and the Punjab government must take stock of the situation.
“Fires are started by people stealing wood. It happens almost every other day. There are a large number of Forest department people working in Changa Manga but no one bothers to look into the matter. Fires go out by themselves after a few days. No fire brigade has ever arrived to put out fire,” said Muhammad Bashir, who lives in a mud house about two kilometres away on the other side of road.
Changa Manga forest, covering an area of around 50 square kilometres (12,500 acres), was grown in 1890 mainly to provide wood to railway steam engines. It is a heritage that must be salvaged.
The Lahore High Court has banned woodcutting in Changa Manga forest. But these orders are being flouted by the timber mafia, who are said to be also backed by local political leaders. It is for the government to implement LHC orders.