RAWALPINDI, July 21: More than 100 trees were chopped down by a construction company for the expansion of Peshawar Road from Chur Chowk to Charring Cross during the last one week.
Punjab government started the Rs530 million worth of project to expand three-kilometre long Peshawar Road with expected loss of more than 150 trees on the green belt among other casualties to the environment.
Local residents and private schools around the area tried to save the trees from felling and staged a number of protest demonstrations but their demand fell on deaf ears of the provincial government. The government, in a bid to score political points, wanted to launch the uplift schemes in the cantonment areas before the upcoming general elections.
In a hurry, it launched the project without getting approval from the Punjab Environment Protection Agency and awarded its contract to National Logistic Company (NLC) which had earlier completed the Chandni Chowk Flyover within a short span of time.
It may be mentioned here that the Punjab government announced development projects in a haste without any proper planning and in violation of environmental acts. Earlier it had completed the Rs2.2 billion worth of Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology (RIC) and Chandni Chowk Flyover project near the runway of Benazir Bhutto International Airport while putting the passenger planes’ safety in danger.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) made a lot of hue and cry but the provincial government said the buildings and structure had been constructed and it was impossible to raze them to ground at the stage. Interestingly, the provincial government also failed to get Environment Assessment Report of the projects before launching them.
In the recent incident of irrational cutting of green trees along Peshawar Road further exposed the priority of the Punjab government and its allied departments especially Punjab Highways Department.
Saving green covers become the last priority when development projects are planned by the civic authorities, trees are regularly facing the axe, repented the people of the area.
Malik Naoman, a resident of Westridge, said that it was wrong planning to overcome the traffic congestion by cutting down the trees along the roads and expand them. He said there were so many alternatives that could have been tried to reduce the traffic flow.
“Cutting trees will have bad effect on the climate of the city,” said Mohammad Arslan, a resident of Lane-5, Peshawar Road. He said that during the development process, the authorities concerned should have planted more saplings to save the green cover in the city.
“Yes, the people are right in complaining. According to environment laws, the highways department has to get the approval from Punjab Environment Protection Agency and plant 10 saplings in the area where they chopped one tree,” revealed District Officer Environment Shaukat Hayat, while talking to Dawn.
He said that air pollution level in the city especially along the main arteries like Benazir Bhutto Road, Airport Road, Jhelum Road and Peshawar Road have either crossed safe limits or reached the threshold level. “There are several pressures contributing to deteriorating air quality in the city including vehicular emissions, dust, industrial combustion, burning of solid waste and absence of green covers,” he said.
When contacted, Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB) Cantonment Executive Officer Rana Manzoor Ahmed Khan said the area fell under the administrative control of the RCB but it allowed the provincial government to launch development scheme for the benefit of the residents of the cantonment.
He further said that it was the duty of the Punjab Highways Department to plant saplings in lieu of the chopped trees to save the environment of cantonment areas and added that the green area was developed after the years-long efforts of the civic body. He admitted that construction work over the project was launched without any planning as the construction company NLC also destroyed many water supply lines in the area while digging up the green belt.
He said the RCB had demanded Rs25 million from the provincial government for the shifting of the utility services and before the release of the money, the construction company started work. He added that the RCB had received Rs10 million from the provincial government and the shifting of utility services at the site would be started from Monday.