One had heard cities being described as concrete jungles. However, a jungle of steel is slowly growing before our eyes in our city, and spreading its tentacles far and wide. Lahore has a canal that can be described as its most beautiful manmade object: Thousands of trees lining it, with their reflections in the shimmering water, can be seen in all their glory, and the photographs and paintings that grace the city's art galleries. In the spring season, the floats designed by the NCA students add a festive air. The canal is more of a sight than the lovely watercourses in the Shalamar Garden, because the whole city, as well as the tourists, feasts their eyes on its loveliness.
However, now it seems all this will be not for very long, since the canal is being fenced on both side. According to reports, many kilometres of the fence have already been erected. God alone knows what it is meant for. When I asked someone about it, he said, perhaps, it was to prevent cars from falling into the canal. Yet, it did not make sense to me. If someone wants his car to jump over the footpath, as well as the beautiful grassy strip next to it, well, let him. The question, however, is: Why spend crores to stop an occasional rash driver?
Another person had an altogether bizarre explanation: That it is meant to prevent the Indian tanks from crossing the canal in the eventuality of a war with India. But you see, in the process the canal has all but disappeared. If this fence is built all the way on both sides, as is happening, future generations will have to look at the past photographs of the canal to visualise the glory it once was.
This is not the only example of environmental vandalism around the city. Across a number of thoroughfares, as well as at multiple sites across the canal, long steel pedestrian bridges are being constructed. This, despite the fact that the half dozen concrete-and-steel bridges across the canal at the Punjab University campus have been rarely used by the tens of thousands of students for whom they were meant. Many years later, two underpasses were built under the canal at a cost of crores of rupees, as well as the cost of the whole wheat crop in thousands of acres supplied by the canal, an additional cost of hundreds of millions. I could never understand why, if the students could not go up the bridges and down the other side, they found it convenient to go down the underpasses and up the other side. I am sure no one asked the students this simple question before wasting the nation’s treasure so thoughtlessly.
Before building bridge after bridge at colossal cost, the authorities could at least have asked someone to assess the number of users on the already built bridges. Whenever I pass under any such bridge, I make a point to look up to see if anyone is using it. I have almost never seen anyone on the bridge. When I think about the multiplicity of unused pedestrian bridges of steel together with this project of imprisoning the canal in heavy steel bars, this makes me wonder why so much steel is being wasted. Because, you see, if the fencing on both sides covers the whole length of the canal across the city, it would mean the expenditure of thousands of tons of steel. As the money is, presumably, coming from government coffers, I feel a better way of spending these crores would have been for the government to have announced the donation of a couple of steel girders for the roof of any poor person wishing to build his house. Tens of thousands could have benefited from it.
I am surprised that no environmentalist, town planner, or anyone, who feels for our lovely city seems to have taken note of this serious issue; perhaps, they are preoccupied with the grave political crisis in the country. The Lahore Bachao Tehrik and other organisations tried to prevent the cutting of trees for widening of the canal bank road and failed. They should take up cudgels again to get this totally unnecessary encumbrance of a heavy fence removed. Otherwise, the future generations will not forgive us for allowing the destruction of this national heritage.
The writer is a former principal of the King Edward Medical College, and former president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan.