LAHORE, March 8: The Punjab government has violated law of the land by launching Kalma Chowk underpass and flyover project.

Under the Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997, work on any mega project cannot be started without carrying out Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), said Lahore Bachao Tehrik convener architect Imrana Tiwana at a news conference at the Lahore Press Club on Tuesday.

The government also did not bother to consult its Planning and Development, environment protection besides transport departments before axing most of the big and old trees on Ferozepur Road.

“As usual, the pretext has been to minimise traffic congestion and ensure smooth movement of vehicles on the thoroughfare. Cutting of trees to build underpasses and widen Canal Bank Road has merely increased volume of traffic there and not prevented congestion. The answer lies in integrated management of cities, provision of efficient and economical public transport besides equitable dispensation of resources in a sustainable and greener way,” she said.

The vehicular population of Lahore has been the highest in the country, some 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles add to Punjab capital traffic annually.

Ironically, trees were slaughtered soon after conclusion of Punjab government`s high profile five-day new paradigm of urban development that demanded sustainability at its very core, said the architect.

Rafay Alam of Pakistan Environmental Lawyers Association (PELA) said that initiating work on a project without carrying out its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been a crime which the government committed by launching Kalma Chowk underpass and flyover project.

During The Mall underpass construction, the Environment Protection Tribunal had in 2003 warned the provincial communication and works department not to initiate any future plan without carrying out either its Initial Environment Assessment (IEA) or Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). Officers concerned could be sent to jail in case of more than two violations.

“Under the Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997, carrying out an EIA of a project, costing more than Rs50 million, and its review by experts and general public is mandatory to make it environment-friendly,” he said and expressed the apprehension that the Kalma Chowk project would not complete according to schedule owing to paucity of funds.

Quoting a recent study carried out by Japan International Cooperation Agency in collaboration with transport department, he said some 40 per cent Lahorites prefer to go on foot to their workplace while cars plying on city roads were not more than 400,000. Furthermore, buses outnumber cars on Ferozepur Road.

Another PELA member Saima Khwaja said the project was launched without taking into confidence masses which was tantamount to denial of their democratic right to have access to information regarding development projects.

Environmentalist Eram Aftab of the Lahore Conservation Society said Lahore was in dire need of more trees as it had become the most polluted city of the country.

“A solution to traffic problems lies in promotion of pedestrian culture, motivating and encouraging more and more people to walk. We have to stop false modernisation under the garb of widening of roads which have traffic congestions at certain hours and not round-the-clock,” she said. Horticulturist Lt-Col Ijaz Nazim (retired) of Shajardost had been planting trees for the last 50 years or so. “But the pace of cutting trees has gained momentum with every year compared to planting and preserving the same. Every year, hundreds of thousands of saplings are planted during special campaigns but only a few survive. Our focus has been on beautification and not utility. Laws pertaining to forest have lacunae and have no mention of urban forestry. Even the important subject is not taught anywhere in Pakistan. For the first time, a national forest policy has been formulated and approved by the federal cabinet. It is lying with the Council of Common Interests for consideration,” he said.

Historian and conservationist Dr Ajaz Anwar was of the view that Lahore, which was famous for its greenery, would become an arid place if trees slaughter continued at the present rate.

“More than 6,000 trees were felled during the construction of four underpasses along canal. We have yet to absorb this environmental shock and cannot afford to have more.”