Authority director disputes claim
The Master Plan of Lahore Development Authority (LDA) to extend urbanisation and development to the districts of Nankana Sahib, Kasur and Sheikhupura will seriously affect the wild habitat of hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, mammals, fauna and flora, which may result in an ecological disaster in the Lahore Division.
An ecological study carried out as part of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to gather ecological data of the said project revealed that the proposal may have an impact on the natural environment, including existing flora, fauna and wild habitats.
This study includes both aquatic and terrestrial ecology of the project area with the guiding principle to conserve major habitats of flora and fauna in the area. The study includes identification, prediction and evaluation of existing habitats, flora and fauna, officials said, adding the baseline ecological study was of 30 days in which tours of the area were arranged to assess plant and animals in different times of the day present in different habitats.
Officials said after a vigorous literature review, certain criteria were established to evaluate animal and plant species in different habitats. Keeping in view international and national legislation, protection status of species found in all habitats was determined, which helped in proposing conservation of respective habitats of protected species.
Out of many identified habitats, major area in the project sites was under Agriculture. Most of the agriculture land will be plunged in new development. Current agriculture area of the project site is 285,875 acres, most of that lies in Kasur (Bhai Pheru 21,800 acre, Kasur 11,044 acre and Pattoki 13,353 acre) and Lahore (Raiwind and Multan road 46,230 acre) districts.
“After the implementation of the proposed Master Plan 192,602 acres (55.26%) of this productive agriculture land will be lost causing a great threat to food security,” the study said, adding wheat and rice are the major staple crops of the project area, while maize, sugarcane and seasonal vegetables are also cultivated.
After agriculture the other prominent area in the project site was orchards, most of which are privately owned. According to the master plan of the project site, most of these orchards will be converted to residential areas in new development. These orchards were mainly of guava while a few of oranges and mangoes were also sighted.
Besides cultivation of crop lands, orchard plantation is common practice for commercial purposes. These orchards were also the habitat of many birds, mammals and plant species. Common bird species were Streptopelia tranquebarica, Acridotheres tristis, and Passer domesticus. Following species of mammals were there ratus ratus, Mus musculus, and Suncus murinus. Some grasses and herbs were also present there. Most common plant species were Dalbergia sisso, Albizia lebbeck, Eucalyptus, Ficus religiosa and Acacia nilotica.
“Significantly many birds and reptile species were found to be protected as they were either under threat as per IUCN Red list (one bird and two reptile species) or were protected under Punjab Wildlife Act (22 bird and six reptile species). One bird (Otus bakkamoena) and five reptile species (Ptyas mucosa, Xenochrophis piscator, Varanus bengalensis, Pangshura smithii and Lissemys punctata Adersoni) are protected either under CITES appendix I, II or III. Two mammal species (Felis chaus and Herpestes mungo) are also protected under Punjab Wildlife Act,” the study revealed. It further said that project sites had significantly higher biodiversity richness which was 101 species of fauna and 146 species of flora. Fauna includes 70 species of birds, 13 of mammals, 15 of reptiles and three of amphibians.
None of the native plant species are under threat as per IUCN Red list but they are under serious threat locally as they have been exterminated due to habitat loss, overuse or are replaced with other more economically important species, the study further revealed, adding same is the case with native fish species among that only Mully (Wallago attu) is ‘near threatened’ in IUCN Red Data Lists but there are other fish species like Rita rita (Ravi Khagga) that also suffer from serious threat and decline due to over exploitation, water pollution and introduction of invasive species.
Giving details of the potential ecological impacts from the project’s planning, implementation (construction and operation), the study said that possible mitigation measures were proposed for enactment of habitat and species. “The negative impacts expected from the implementation, construction and operation of this master plan are loss of agricultural land, loss of biodiversity, habitat loss and fragmentation, water, noise, air and light pollutions and change in groundwater recharge capacity,” the study maintained.
However, the study also mentioned some positive impacts of the project, including increased economic activity, livelihood opportunities, reducing pressure on other mega cities like Lahore, better transportation, education, healthcare, sewer and municipal water supply facilities, increased land and property values and initiation of secondary development.
It further stated that negative impacts of this development could be mitigated by minimising biodiversity loss by developing Green Infrastructure, restoration of native vegetation on railroad and roadside verges and river and canal banks, identification and conservation of areas important for priority animal species, planning for nature conservation through the restoration of ecological networks, urban agriculture and kitchen gardening.
The study; however, strongly recommended that the biodiversity should be conserved by protecting species and their habitats and secondly more green areas should be developed with native plants as a compensation of lost vegetation. It recommended that there would be dire need to develop infrastructure and policies to reduce water, noise, light and solid waste pollutions, design ground water recharge and rainwater harvesting mechanisms and to promote urban agriculture for assuring food security.
Talking with The News, LDA’s Director Shakeel Minhas, who is the architect of this master plan said that there were serious misconceptions about the plan as LDA was only going to rationalise the already developed and urban areas of these districts. He said the master plan would restrict land use to certain limits to save environmental degradation as well as habitat loss. He maintained that the plan would provide designated industrial, commercial and residential areas so that no one could use the land beyond its capacity.
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