SC seeks report on 10 billion tree tsunami initiative

Published December 2, 2020
In this 2019 file photo, schoolchildren plant saplings in connection with the 10 billion trees tsunami project at Baloki Nature Reserve Project. — APP/File
In this 2019 file photo, schoolchildren plant saplings in connection with the 10 billion trees tsunami project at Baloki Nature Reserve Project. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Expressing annoyance over rapid deforestation in the country, the Supreme Court on Tuesday sought a comprehensive report on the federal government’s ‘10 billion tree tsunami’ initiative highlighting the exact number of trees as well as the areas where they have been planted.

A two-judge SC bench consisting of Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, which had taken up a suo motu case about fast depleting of forest in the country, also ordered halting of all kinds of commercial activities or development of housing societies on the mountainous range of Kalar Kahar and turning the entire region green again by planting trees in a massive number.

Climate Change Secretary Naheed Durrani, who was summoned by the court during the hearing, was directed to furnish a comprehensive report showing satellite images of the areas where the trees or saplings or seedlings had been planted in addition to the cost incurred on the entire exercise. The report should also contain information about how these saplings are being taken care of and by whom.

The court expressed surprise when it was informed by the secretary that around 430 million trees had been planted over the past one year in different cities under the 10 billion tree tsunami initiative. The provinces are 50 per cent shareholders of the campaign. Reforestation had been done on approximately one million hectares of land, the secretary said.

Orders halting of all commercial, construction activities on mountainous range of Kalar Kahar

The chief justice said that had such a huge number of trees been planted, the entire climate and fate of the country would have been changed.

The bench hinted at verifying the government’s claim by asking magistrates to personally visit the areas where trees had been planted and report back to the court. When asked from where such a huge number of trees had been procured, Naheed Durrani said these saplings had been obtained from different nurseries of the country.

This information could not convince the chief justice who wondered how such a huge quantity of saplings was available in nurseries. “What quality of life we are leaving for our posterity?” the chief justice asked, regretting that seeing the amount of garbage littered all around in different cities of Punjab and Sindh, it had become even difficult to breathe. “The billion tree initiative does not exist in the province of Balochistan,” the chief justice said.

The Punjab forest secretary informed the court that around 90 million trees had been planted in the province since June 2019. Similarly, trees have been planted on around 25,000 kanals of land on both sides of rivers and canals in Punjab.

However, the chief justice regretted that given the size of the province 90m was too less. “We have already seen the regretful depletion of forest cover in the man-made Changa Manga wildlife park in Kasur district of Punjab, whereas the situation in Kalar Kahar mountainous range does not depict a hopeful picture where housing societies have emerged,” the chief justice deplored.

The situation in Sindh was not very promising either where funds allocated for the forest were apparently embezzled, Justice Ahsan said. The observation was endorsed by the chief justice who said nothing went on the ground no matter how much funds were allocated.

How could trees survive in Sindh when it was even difficult for humans to live, the chief justice wondered, regretting that the entire forest cover was denuded near Larkana in the name of a campaign to arrest dacoits. Resultantly, he bemoaned, trees in the dense jungle were chopped but not a single dacoit was arrested.

“The staff of Sindh irrigation and environment departments simply come on an excursion trip to Islamabad and always want to see Murree,” the chief justice said, adding that they could plant 50,000 trees on what they spent for their official visits.

The Sindh forest secretary said that around five million trees had been planted in the province, but at the same time regretted that the provincial government was not releasing funds for plantation of trees. Likewise, 382,000 trees had been planted on both sides of rivers and canals in Sindh, the court was told.

The chief justice emphasised that trees should be planted on both sides of the canals and rivers in a proper manner.

Justice Ahsan also highlighted the absence of trees on both sides of important highways, including Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway, and recalled how Lahore had been declared the most polluted city in the world.

The chief justice regretted that proper rows of trees were also missing on the Kashmir Highway or Expressway in the federal capital, recalling how highways were spruced up in different parts of the world by planting trees in a proper and neat manner. The court was also informed that 7.3m trees had been planted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 39m trees would be planted soon.

But the chief justice regretted that the entire Naran and Kaghan resorts had become a heap of garbage where there were no trees around the lakes and thousands of trees had been chopped in Kumrat.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2020

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