Merciless murder

Jalees Hazir Last week, writing in The Nations Readers Column from Kashmore in Sindh, Mr M D Baloch brought the nations attention to thousands of decades-old lush green trees being murdered mercilessly along the 67-kilometre Hyderabad-Mirpurkhas Road. He appealed to those in charge to initiate immediate steps to save the national wealth from planners and contractors out to make measly millions in profit from this grievous loss to humanity. This is not an isolated incident. In fact, the tendency to fell mature trees at the slightest pretext is spreading like a plague in the country. Can we afford to let it continue unchallenged? The irony is that all this destruction is taking place in the name of development which has been unnecessarily juxtaposed against nature. Those defending such hare-brained projects would like us to believe that the loss of natural assets is a price we must pay for our progress. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These days the concept of development has been inseparably tied up to natural preservation and sustainabi-lity, like twins joined at the hip. Where significant environmental costs are indicated, an environmental impact assessment has been declared mandatory to ensure that the benefits of development are not outweighed by what is lost in terms of natural environment. This law is being flouted every day by our own governments. On a number of occasions, the Chief Justice of Pakistan had to intervene to stop mega-projects initiated illegally without conducting the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports and bulldozing ahead with no regard to what is stated in the book. In a situation where the public representatives seem least bothered about episodes of this long-running national tragedy, and public officials seem hand-in-glove with greedy road contractors and timber mafia, the courts remain the only hope for relief, especially for the trees on Hyderabad-Mirpur-khas Road that are being felled as you read these lines. Yet it would be unfair to expect the courts to single-handedly che-ck this widespread evil. The sad part is that in most of the cases, development and nature could go hand in hand. The authorities who plan and approve these development projects seem to be sworn enemies of trees and everything green. In so many cases, a little bit of sensitivity on their part could achieve their development goals without sacrificing valuable natural assets. But saving the trees, not a few, but thousand upon thousands of them, seem to figure nowhere in their priorities. In fact, it seems that they go out of their way to make sure that a maximum number of trees are massacred at the altar of development. This attitude, many say, is not due to ignorance but clearly shows the nexus of these public officials with the timber mafia. There are innumerable instances that could be quoted as examples. The city of Lahore, once famous for its greenery, continues to suffer at the hands of its planners who have robbed it of this treasure as a consequence of such insensitive development priorities and corruption. Travel out of the city on the famous Grand Trunk Road towards Gujranwala, and you see that the 60 kilometre stretch between the two cities which was once divided by beautiful old trees is now a dreary treeless drive. More recently, massacre of a hundred thousand old trees was ordered for remodeling the Gujranwala-Sialkot Road. Whether it is the Mianwali municipality that sold trees along its roads for a paltry sum or the Punjab governments plan for clearing hundreds of acres of a unique forest in Depalpur for a model school project, it is difficult to make sense of this madness. Surely, there is more to it than just callousness. In this day and age, one would think it unnecessary to enumerate the importance of trees; how they keep the air clean and maintain underground water levels, how they attract rainfall and provide shade in our cruel summer, how they are natural habitats of birds and insects and create a balance in our ecosystem. Yet it seems that these basic truths need to be highlighted over and over again. And mind you, these are not matters of luxury but basic survival. The biggest criticism of those speaking for the environment in Pakistan is that their ideas are suitable for developed countries and in a developing country like ours, they are just hindering development which is deemed essential for eliminating poverty. This is the biggest lie. Observe this misguided development paradigm that the governments have been following blindly and with exceptional zeal and you find it benefiting the not-so-poor. The lives and livelihood of the poor are actually very closely linked to the natural environment, and by destroying it in the name of development, our planners are actually denying them whatever little reprieve nature provides them with no help from their development activities. Perhaps, it would be too much to expect from them to follow a paradigm of development that favours the poor, and therefore the environment. The least they can do is to be a little bit more sensitive to environmental con-cerns while undertaking their development projects meant for the more-privileged sections of the population. Efforts of those hoping to stop massacres of trees across the country seem to be losing out to those driven by petty personal gains; their evil eyes blinded by lust for money, their ears deaf to the trees praising God. This calls for better organisation among their ranks and coordination across Pakistan rather than tackling the barbaric onslaught at the local level. As far as the courts are concerned, just stopping such crimes is not enough anymore. Apportioning the blame, and awarding exemplary punishment to the public officials involved will send the right message to those who instead of protecting trees as per their official responsibility, become willing tools in the hands of pro-fiteers for whom living breathing noble old trees are little more than timber. For the trees on Hyderabad-Mirpurkhas Road though, the Supreme Court taking notice of this blatant illegality seems the only hope. It might be too late for them until the green activists put their act together. Time is running out. The writer is a freelance columnist.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt