Wednesday Jan 29, 2020
The Lahore High Court (LHC) earlier this week stopped a mass felling of trees in the provincial capital.
The Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO) had recently begun clearing trees on the canal, a colonial-era waterway, to make way for overhead powerlines. The green belt on both sides of the canal is protected under the Lahore Canal Heritage Act, 2013, passed by the Punjab Assembly.
The act refers to the foliage as “public trust and part of the heritage of the city.” It further prohibits the felling, tapping, burning or removing of any plant or tree on the canal. Punishment under the act can lead to jail time of one to five years along with a fine.
This week, the Chief Justice of the LHC, Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh, took up a petition against the Forest Department by a civil society member, Imrana Tiwana.
The judge noted that the controlling authority of the canal was the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA), from whom permission had not been sought. The LESCO, according to the court order, instead was granted authorisation from the Forest Department, which had no jurisdiction in the area, as there are no forests near or around the waterway.
We could not get a comment from the director-general PHA as he was not available.
After the clearing of 10 trees, the forest department sold the wood collected to a contractor named Ijaz Khan, for Rs 21,149,70, as per a notification obtained by Geo.tv.
On Monday, the LHC pointed out that as per the act if any trees are to be trimmed or cut an environment assessment report needs to be prepared beforehand.
Lahore has been repeatedly ranked in the top five most polluted cities with the world. At times it's air quality has reached “hazardous” levels. According to a 2010 report by the National Environment Information System, a project of United Nations Development Program, the deforestation rate in Pakistan is estimated at 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent annually, which is the highest in the world.
“Since the said activity is without jurisdiction and sans an environmental impact assessment report, hence, it is liable to be stopped immediately,” Justice Sheikh wrote in his order, adding that “No further felling/cutting down of canal trees … shall be carried out and any such tree which has been cut down, shall not be removed from site.”
The hearing has been adjourned till February 17.