The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) took over a public space on Wednesday amidst allegations that its workers 'destroyed' an urban forest planted there by environmental activists and citizens.
According to KMC officials, the municipal authority took charge of the park, located in Clifton Block 5, and "started the process of cleaning it, to be followed by plantation".
The officials acknowledged that the park had been handed over to urban forest chief Shahzad Qureshi for a period of five years, but said the contract has now been suspended "over violations of the agreement".
A video of a distraught Qureshi arriving at the park and seeing his work being undone by KMC workers had sparked a strong reaction on social media on Wednesday, with many slamming the KMC for ruining a good initiative and destroying a citizen-led project.
KMC Deputy Director Parks Shahid later said that the urban forest will "remain intact" in the park and that more moringa trees will be planted. He added that the park would be opened to the public after its renovation.
On the other hand, Qureshi alleged that the KMC had uprooted plants from the 'forest'.
Qureshi said that on the one hand, the KMC had been negotiating with him, while on the other, the corporation had sent its employees to uproot the forest.
He recalled that the municipal body had handed over the space to him for a period of five years. Under the project, he said, 50,000 trees had to be planted — out of which 15,000 trees have been planted so far.
"I don't know why the KMC took the park into its custody," he said, adding that instead of being supported, he is being "targeted" by the KMC.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Khurrum Sher Zaman announced that his party will donate 50,000 trees to the project.
Karachi mayor intervenes
Later in the day, Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar intervened in the matter and held a meeting with Qureshi and other concerned citizens.
“Today, Wasim Akhtar invited us to his office to hold talks after the recent decision of the parks department,” Qureshi told Dawn.
He said that the talks were held in a positive atmosphere and he found them "encouraging". KMC Director General Parks Afaq Mirza also attended the meeting.
Qureshi quoted the mayor as saying that he wants the KMC to continue its endeavours to "complete the development of the park as per its design."
Akhtar also informed the concerned citizens that he would personally visit the urban forest, which is located near Karachi Grammar School in Clifton, and observe the work being carried out there, Qureshi said.
Providing some background on the adoption of the three-acre land, Qureshi said that around one-and-a-half year ago, an agreement was made with the KMC. Under the agreement, Qureshi said, he and other philanthropists planted some 6,000 trees. This year, they accelerated their efforts and so far, 15,000 trees have been planted.
He said that they had developed a park and a lake as well in the designated place. A system of treating water had also been installed. Furthermore, vegetables were also being sown there, which were being distributed among the deserving persons in the locality.
Qureshi expressed his hope that the KMC would withdraw its cancellation order and would allow them to complete the work.