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September 12, 2019

KMC allegedly uproots vegetable patch in Clifton urban forest


September 12, 2019

Pictures by Shahzad Qureshi

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) Parks & Horticulture Department on Thursday morning allegedly stormed the amenity plot ST-13 in the Park Lane area of the Clifton neighbourhood, known as an urban forest, and uprooted the vegetable patch and plants inside the wetland treatment channel.

Later, however, Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar ensured of his support, while the Sindh chief minister’s information adviser Barrister Murtaza Wahab also took notice of the incident. In a Facebook Live video of the urban forest page, workers uprooting the plants could be heard calling themselves KMC staff. However, Parks & Horticulture Director General Afaq Mirza conspicuously remained silent on the issue. When attempts were made to contact him, he did not respond as usual.

Forty-five-year-old Shahzad Qureshi, a textile engineer who lives in the vicinity of the plot, has been attempting to turn it into an urban forest since the deadly heatwave of 2015.

He sought verbal permission from the KMC’s then parks DG Niaz Somroo for the purpose and started the plantation. By April 2017, he signed a five-year agreement with the municipality for the adoption of the park by forming a private company named Urban Forest.

However, things have not gone smoothly since then, as the KMC cancelled the agreement with Qureshi twice, claiming that the latter failed to develop the park as per the agreement. In a letter dated September 14, 2018, the KMC stated that the adopter of the plot had failed to develop it as a public park despite taking more than one and a half years.

However, the adoption was restored in October the same year after Qureshi assured the municipal body of developing the park in the shortest possible time. The KMC again cancelled the agreement earlier this month on the same grounds, saying that the entrepreneur had failed to fulfil his commitments, leaving no other option for the corporation but to cancel the agreement and repossess the plot.

Since then, Qureshi has been running from pillar to post to get back possession of the plot. According to him, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan Convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui had also intervened to get the agreement restored.

On Thursday morning, when Qureshi found out that the KMC officials were uprooting his plants, he reached the plot and stopped them. He said that by the time he reached there, the staff had already destroyed his vegetable patch, where eggplant, courgette and ratatouille were being grown.

He said that apart from this, the reed plants in his wetland treatment plant were also chopped off. He explained that these reed plants are used to filter sewage.

Qureshi has created 1,800 square metres of a planting bed on the severely degraded land with 54 tonnes of biomass by digging and mixing the ground up to one metre down. The ground was filled with construction debris and mountains of garbage before he started planting trees in 2015.

He explained that he has planted more than 15,000 native trees of about 55 different species in the park and all of them have been growing.

The verdure at the plot does not resemble plantations that one sees in other parks of the city. The trees and plants here are not planted in rows and do not form any organised sequence. They rather resemble a small jungle.

Qureshi said Akhtar assured him full support in a meeting following Thursday’s incident. He claimed that the Parks & Horticulture Department has been feeding the mayor wrong information. “The mayor has not only assured me of his support but also pledged to plant a tree in the urban forest.”

Meanwhile, Wahab said in a tweet that he has directed the environment secretary and the South deputy commissioner to ensure that no tree is uprooted in the urban forest. The adviser said that it is criminal to uproot trees, adding that the DC has visited the park and informed the KMC to ensure that no trees are uprooted.