ISLAMABAD – The Supreme Court on Thursday, while announcing the judgment on cutting of trees for the Lahore Canal Bank Road widening project, said that the Bambawali-Ravi-Bedian (BRB) Canal and the greenbelt on both sides of it from Jallo Park to Thokar Niaz Baig is a Public Trust.
It should be treated as Heritage Urban Park forthwith and declared so by an Act to be passed by the Assembly as undertaken by the Punjab provincial government. The widening of the road on both sides of the canal bank should be in accordance with the report submitted by the mediation committee and should be implemented in letter and spirit. The court after various hearings had reserved the judgment on August 15, 2011, which was announced by Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, the author judge, at the courtroom on Thursday.
The Punjab government and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) have been asked to ensure that minimum damage is caused to the greenbelt and every tree cut is replaced by four trees of the height of 6/7 feet, and this replacement when commenced and completed should be notified through press releases for information of general public and the copies of that should be sent to the Registrar of the apex court.
The judgment said that the elaborate measures should be taken to ensure that the canal is kept clean and free of pollution, urging to avoid throwing litter and discharge of any pollutant in the canal, while declaring it a penal offence. The Punjab chief secretary was directed that a comprehensive action plan be prepared in this regard by the department concerned and report should be submitted to the court Registrar within six weeks.
The judgment also stated that the necessary correction/modification of some of the underpasses on the canal road shall be carried out as suggested in the report of the mediation committee. Proper traffic management programme shall be made and given effect to further improvement in public transport system shall be ensured. Where needed and as recommended by the committee, re-engineering of the junctions along the canal bank would be undertaken. The service roads along certain parts of the Canal Road shall be constructed and improved.
The Lahore Bachao Tehrik (LBT) had challenged the project of widening of a 14-km-long section of the Canal Bank Road falling between Dharampura Underpass and Thokar Niaz Baig. The petitioner, LBT, had contended that the project would destroy the greenbelt and park on both sides of BRB, and would also fail to solve the traffic congestion problem at the Canal Bank Road. It argued that the issue of traffic congestion can be resolved by complying with urban town planning and sustainable urban transport, which include public transportation as a major alternative to private transportation.
Staff Reporter from Lahore adds: The Lahore Bachao Tehrik highly appreciated the Supreme Court decision.
LBT Convener Imrana Tiwana, Mediation Committee Secretary Rafay Alam, Lahore Conservation Society President Kamal Khan Mumtaz and WWF Director General Ali Habib, said while giving their reaction that the SC in its decision has recognised the cultural and ecological significance of this landmark area, stating it to be crucial to the wellbeing of the citizens of Lahore.
The office holders of the LBT, which was initiated in 2004, termed their endouvour a landmark citizens’ movement which highlighted critical environmental issues and human rights in the city of Lahore. Spanning six years, the results have reached a wide spectrum of society, mobilising citizens and institution as watchdogs for the sustainable development of this historic city. Due to this movement, the citizens of Lahore were empowered to effect a critical difference to the future of Lahore. The Supreme Court has recognised that “this was a living testimony to a vibrant civil society”, they observed.
They said that the movement looked forward to the government implementing the SC directions with diligence. “We pledge to continue informed and responsible action faithful to the principles demonstrated by the six-year citizens’ movement. The people of Lahore will continue their commitment and efforts to preserve and protect the historic city of Lahore.”
Dr Pervez Hassan, Chairman of the seven-member committee set up by the SC to find out ways and means to protect the trees and the environment of the city thereof in the road widening project of 2009, said the committee is pleased with the SC decision as all the 19 recommendations of his committee have been adopted.
He said his committee has also recommended for observing pedestrians day on the canal from Jallo Park to Tokar Niaz Beg one day a month when no traffic but only people on foot will enjoy the beauty of canal. He said instead of widening the road and cutting down trees in the process, the problem of traffic could be addressed by correcting faulty construction of two underpasses, putting the service roads to better use and ring road areas. He said he also recommended for declaring the canal road for the people instead of the motorists and any development of the same should be undertaken with that consideration. The SC decision has given the canal back to the citizens of Lahore, he concluded.