KARACHI: Stacks of vegetable plants mercilessly uprooted lay on one side of the Urban Forest. “Here look at the corpses. It’s the funeral of our vegetable patch,” said Shahzad Qureshi, who had adopted the land reserved for a park but which was used for dumping garbage on plot ST-13 in Block 5, Clifton, for five years in May, 2017 after an agreement with the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).
But the adoption was cancelled through a notice issued on Aug 26 and on Wednesday KMC workers started pulling out all the vegetables planted towards the front of the park as Mr Qureshi begged them to stop.
The notice of cancellation of adoption pasted on a park pillar at the entrance reads that the Urban Forest failed to develop according to expectations after one-and-a-half years. Therefore, the adoption was being cancelled. A banner on the gate also says the same thing with another banner which states ‘Work in progress — KMC’.
‘I had a proper landscape design for this place but it is going to become a khichri of an urban forest now’
The said ‘work in progress’ can be seen in clearing up the vegetable patches and planting two rows of moringa trees in its place. “But this is an urban forest where the trees are supposed to grow like they do in a forest, without being trimmed or pruned. Now we have our trees at the back and this unnatural facade,” Mr Qureshi told Dawn.
“I had a proper landscape design for this place but it is going to become a khichri of an urban forest now. If Mayor of Karachi Wasim Akhtar wants to take over this park, I will not come in his way. If he wants to rename the Urban Forest after himself, we can certainly call it ‘Wasim Bagh’ as long as they don’t harm the trees and plants here and let me develop this place according to our design,” he added.
“Still, I have had a first meeting with Wasim sahib today and I am told that I can carry on doing my work, but the KMC will also develop this park with me,” he said.
“Whenever the KMC people come here they just look at the park front. They don’t want to come and see the place where we have planted thousands of native trees and fruit trees and where the urban forest is a home for birds and insects, frogs and butterflies that help the ecosystem. We also have grassy patches in my landscape with a lake, but they don’t see all that,” he said.
After learning of the uprooting of the Urban Forest on Wednesday, several members of civil society rushed there to protest. Horticulturist Tofiq Pasha, also known as the Maali, or gardener, questioned why the experts who know their work are sidelined for amateurs. “How do the people who get salaries out of our taxes, and who are supposed to serve us, become rulers and kings?”
Social activist, classical dancer and founder of Tehrik-i-Niswan Sheema Kermani also wondered why citizens who mean well are discouraged this way. “It is sad when citizens who step forth to take responsibilities to save cities, are obstructed like this,” she said.
“We need such urban forests all over for helping the environment and climate. Pretty manicured gardens and grassy lands only give cosmetic beauty, not environmental change.”
Saleem Lallani, a concerned citizen, said that the trees and plants that had been planted at the Urban Forest should not be uprooted as if they are nothing. “Each tree and plant here has been donated by caring citizens. They are their property,” he said.
Shumaila Matri, another concerned citizen, also said that she saw the chief minister flying over the city in a helicopter during Ashura. “The footage we saw was of a dry and brown city below. With such green patches this city is truly a place of bricks and stone like the hearts of the government people,” she said.
Lawyer and teacher Abira Ashfaq said that she had been witnessing too much subversion of law in land issues, which was not right.
The Urban Forest was also taken back from Mr Qureshi in September 2018 but the adoption was restored the same year after about a month. Right across the street there is another amenity plot for another park, which the KMC doesn’t seem so interested in developing as the Urban Forest. When Dawn called KMC director general for parks Afaq Mirza, he was not available for comment despite several calls made to him with many messages sent his way.
Mayor Akhtar also kept rejecting all calls made to him from Dawn.
Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2019