“No tree, on account of any reason, shall be cut till the conclusion of the case,” declared a three member bench that was headed by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar. “Trees are not like a wall that can be raised again. Their felling causes irreparable loss,” the court stated in Wednesday’s hearing.
The bench is hearing a contempt petition filed by the “Lahore Bachao Tehreek” (LBT), an NGO that serves as a platform for organizations, individuals and groups to voice their concerns about the city’s environment. The complainant (LBT) argues that the government has been violating a court order that was passed on 15th September, 2011, which declared the Lahore Branch Canal and the greenbelt on both sides of the Canal (from Jallo Park to Thokar Niaz Baig) as a Heritage Park.
Canal Road widening project damaging the city's environment
Renowned Barrister Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan represented the Lahore Bachao Tehreek, while Advocate Khawaja Haris appeared on behalf of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA).
The LBT appealed to the respected Court to take immediate notice of the willful and blatant defiance of the 2011 court decision, as well as the Lahore Canal Heritage Park Act of 2013. Moreover, the lawyer demanded that further action be taken against those responsible.
LBT’s legal representative also requested the court to declare the felling of trees by the Punjab Government as illegal. He elaborated that the trees are being cut down in order to widen 3.5 kilometers of road on both sides of the Canal, starting from the Doctors’ Hospital to Thokar Niaz Baig. Government authorities plan to build an underpass near Dharampura, make major changes to the existing underpass on Canal Bank Road, and add 14 new U turns on the same road. However, to materialize these projects, trees are being cut down on an enormous scale, causing irrevocable harm to the Heritage Park.
Construction of underpasses
In LDA’s defense, their counsel, Advocate Khawaja Haris stated that the authority had stopped felling trees after it gave an undertaking to the court on 12th February, 2014. While Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan asserted that the government’s development plans are against public interest, Advocate Haris argued that the projects had been initiated to facilitate the public. Imrana Tiwana, a representative from the LBT, reasoned that only 7 percent of the population of Lahore owns cars, which the government intends to facilitate.
The court passed an interim stay order, and instructed government authorities to ensure that its development plans do not cause damage to the city’s environment. The court emphasized the need to strike a balance between development activities and environmental concerns. Although infrastructure development in urban centers is essential, it must not be carried out at the cost of the environment.
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