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Lahore: Canal road project revives trees conservation controversy

A RECENT advertisement by the Lahore Development Authority regarding revival of the Widening/Remodelling of Canal Bank Road Project has caused uproar among the civil society organisations as well as the citizens at large who have started organising themselves to fight against the project.

Revival of the project will result in loss of some 1,440 fully grown and healthy trees along both sides of the canal, which the authorities planned to widen/remodel by 18 feet, leaving severe environmental impact on the city.

In the past, different non-governmental organisations and representatives of civil society have already reacted strongly against the project and expressed serious concerns over the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report about the project, claiming that it completely ignored the long-term environmental impact on weather and residents of Lahore.

The Traffic Engineering and Planning Authorities (Tepa) had started the remodelling/widening of the Canal Bank Road from Dharampura Underpass to Canal View Bridge, Thokar Niaz Baig, in the year 2007. They said the project was necessary to cope with the increased traffic load, especially due to Motorway traffic, and the vehicular movement towards the Raiwind Road.

The Canal Bank Road is one of the main arteries of the provincial capital, connecting northern part of the city with its southern part.

Over the past two decades (1981-2000), the rapid growth in population and vehicles in Lahore has resulted in worsening traffic situation, said a senior Tepa official, adding that vehicle registration had increased from 52 to over 116 per 1,000 inhabitants while the number of private cars had increased over the same period from 13 to over 100 per 1,000 inhabitants.

He said the traffic volume on the Canal Road had doubled in the last four years to over 220,000 vehicles per day, which was almost the twice of the road capacity and the widening of the road would overcome this problem.

The proposed length of the project to be upgraded is 14 kilometres and the improvement plan involves construction of an additional 18-feet-wide road plus six-feet-wide earthen shoulders on the each side. Resurfacing, development and improvement of service roads (all 18 feet wide), standardising access to/from service roads, construction of bus bays and shelters, development of green areas and plantation of trees are also included in the project.

Sources in the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said the chairman of the Chief Minister’s Task Force on Environment, Dr Owais Farooqi, had also taken notice of the LDA’s advertisement and called the LDA authorities to brief him on the project. Sources said Dr Owais also got briefings from the department officials regarding the NOC, given to the LDA for the project. They said the task force chairman was informed that the NOC, given by a department, was valid for the next three years.

Explaining the negative impacts of the project, Raffy Alam, an environmental lawyer, said the EIA report on the project itself said that it would have some adverse environmental impacts, including cutting of 1,850 trees, and loss of ecological habitat, a major adverse impact of the project. Other environmental impacts included handling and disposal of construction waste, contamination of surface and ground water, disruption of traffic, deterioration of air quality, increase in noise level, impact on pedestrian bridges, safety of workers and public and safety of pedestrians and cyclists, he maintained.

Mr Alam said the EIA report was prepared in haste because it lacked the long-term impacts of the environmental changes to be caused by felling of trees. The sampling procedure, adopted by the EIA, was insufficient and it lacked reliability as it only carried out for 24 hours and did not explain seasonal variations and other metrological factors. He said increased air pollution due to felling of trees would badly affect health of millions.

“Increase in asthma, skin infections, heart and liver malfunctioning and spread of TB on a large scale are some adverse impacts the inhabitants of Lahore will have to face after completion of the project,” he maintained, asking that what the government will do after the proposed road would be full of traffic. He said besides questioning the eligibility of the Provincial Environmental Department of taking the EIA out of the project and said that EPD was a provincial department and it could not take the EIA out of a project of the Punjab government. He said the EIA should be prepared by the federal EPD to ensure transparency and good governance.

After the recent advertisement of this much criticised and controversial project, the Lahore Bachaoo Tehrik, a civil society organisation, called a meeting of its members to evolve a strategy to launch a massive public awareness campaign, highlighting the negative impacts of the project on the environment and health of the public in general.

Earlier, the number of NGOs and members of civil society urged the Punjab government to implement a traffic management system instead of cutting trees. They also urged the government to ban trucks, tractors, rickshaws and carts on the Canal Bank Road, cyclists should only use the service lanes, bus bays should be constructed to keep the traffic in flow and speed limit should be imposed.

On the other hand, the LDA’s spokesman said the chief minister had directed the LDA to immediately execute the project. That’s why the LDA had advertised the project in the newspapers, he said.

Source: The News

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