LAHORE: A tree planting drive was held at the Doongi Ground near MM Alam Road where the civil society activists gathered to support the cause.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Supreme Court and Lahore Commissioner Dr Mujtaba Paracha also planted saplings.

Gulmohar, Neem, Amaltas, Jaamun, Kachnar, Shisham and Peepal were among the 70 types of trees planted in the ground by the participants of the drive on Saturday.

The Lahore DC said that in the parks, identified by the government, there would be urban afforestation while a plan had been made of creating a mini-jungle around the Ring Road. He assured full support for such tree planting projects.

At average after a planting drive, trees must be taken care of properly for at least couple of years, ensuring water and care for it.

“This particular drive is a kind of memorial to our campaign to protect trees here around 12 years ago,” said urban planner Imrana Tiwana who added that the place was selected for an IMAX cinema and a lot of activity involving concrete was to happen here.

“We took the case to court and we had immense support from the people like Ardeshir Cowasjee and Mansoor Ali Shah who was a lawyer at the time,” said Ms Tiwana who is also part of the Lahore Bachao Tehreek.

In the final decision, the three storeys of the cinema, which were laid out in place of this park, had to be taken down. Today, Ms Tiwana says, the case is set as a precedent and proves that when civil society petitions for issues, change can take place.

“We must experience the growth of a tree,” said ecologist and geologist Naeem Ahmed Bajwa.

“There is a whole process during which the saplings are tended and protected and then watching them grow is a unique feeling.”

Talking about the kind of trees needed in Pakistan, he said the trees needed today were the local ones which could form huge green canopies, not the types that rise vertically, without casting any shadow.

“It is good that there has been a shift now in the government quarters. The commissioner and the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) are fully supporting us in finding barren spots of land for planting trees. Otherwise, heat island effect would rise with increase in concrete structures.”

Mr Bajwa said the government must also understand that it was not just about horticulture or floriculture but it’s about urban forests now.

“Use the shade of trees is essential. It increases interaction among the people, impacting society in a very different way. These are people from low and middle socioeconomic groups who need a place to converge outside their homes,” he said.

The culture of social interaction has become minimal, especially among women, thanks to their decreasing number in public spaces. Shaded areas would help in closing that change.

Attiya Noon, an art historian, said the vision she herself had of Punjab bringing out its beauty through trees was through the ‘wild and natural spread of vegetation’.

“Punjab is naturally lush and it can easily have trees spread out everywhere. There is no point in importing trees and landscaping to such an extent. The concept of urban forests has taken over now and through these forests, we can see the return of our more exotic animals and birds.”

Ms Noon said they would work on other sites too, including spots near the Ring Road and other places.

“The National Highways Authority (NHA) has also provided us with 30 kanal land in different areas for this very purpose,” she said.

Supported by the PHA, the Lahore Biennale, Arjumand Bano Initiative and the government of Punjab, the plantation drive was given a hashtag #AfforestationLahore for social media.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2019