Environmental deterioration due to human activity has achieved a worrisome level in Pakistan. Littering, dumping domestic garbage outside in the streets and not paying any heed to environmental conservation is internalized.
This is done without realizing that the duty to keep surroundings clean is not only the job of the local municipal services provider, but also the duty of every citizen, as a responsible member of society. Amidst this conundrum, what adds fuel to fire is the absence of green places in towns and neighbourhoods, where the general public can connect to the natural environment and actualize the significance of plantation and clean and green spaces.
Where the world is shifting towards the adoption of ‘green governance’ or ‘environmental governance’, Pakistan is still in a quagmire in trying to manage its solid and liquid waste. While efforts are being consciously put in from all fronts to handle this issue, it is usually erroneously assumed that civil servants in Pakistan have become uninterested in taking the initiative and have majorly been committed only to the directions given by higher authorities, without the will to serve the public in genuine. However, that would be a false generalisation, as there are a number of civil servants who are selflessly dedicated to serve the public, bringing about positive change. It may be small but is often significant, and encourages public friendly initiatives.
The newly established Botanical Garden in Sargodha city is a true reflection of ‘green governance’ and the evidence of strong will among public servants to work in a way that not only exhibits dedication but also creativity and commitment to environmental conservation. The botanical garden was established in May 2021, when an old, abandoned piece of provincial land was found being wasted, despite being in the heart of the city. It was home to shrubs and bushes with the front occupied by some plant nurseries.
The divisional administration took a planned leap by deciding to convert the land into a botanical park where people could enjoy a good walk, where families could come and have some time with Mother Nature, where there would be plants of various kinds as well as benches to sit and breathe in some fresh air.
The idea was to not make it into a business model, but to design it in such a way that people could find some respite there from the hustle of the town, children could internalise that green places are enjoyable and peaceful, and that families could know that safe, green and friendly places to walk and socialize do exist amidst the stressful days of the pandemic.
The most interesting part, however, is that the idea materialised with almost no public money spent on it. It was a community-based development model where the ownership of it also lies with the public. The model which most of the researchers today talk about in the West was actually practised by some civil servants in this small third world country, without any formal acknowledgement and recognition. The small nurseries in the area were engaged in the massive plantation drive in the garden. The PHA was tasked to design comfortable benches, aesthetically beautiful huts, colourful small bird houses and lights which added marvel to the little initiative at the most minimal of cost. It is worth mentioning that the park is kept in the most organic form, with almost all the work done with wood. The use of plastic has been deliberately avoided by the administration to make it environmentally friendly.
The garden has received an overwhelming response from the people of Sargodha, and footfall has risen to remarkable numbers in only a matter of days. Be it birthday celebrations of small children, family picnics, evening walks or event photo shoots, the park is preferred by people over all other places in the town. This initiative thus must make us think that people do not always want a restaurant, a commercial site, a place overloaded with mechanical rides or a mall to go out to with their family. They want green places to take in some fresh air, which are usually not available in most neighbourhoods.
It is high time that this need of people is realised, and green spaces increased not only in number but also in quality just like the Botanical Garden in Sargodha. This is not only significant for the health of the planet but also equally important for the wellbeing of the people and society at large. However, only the government’s initiative would be insufficient, and so the people must come forward and take ownership of such projects. They can do so by not only participating in and contributing to the entire process, but also by being committed to the cause and promising to refrain from littering and environmental deterioration.
Moreover, this model of community-based development for establishing gardens, parks and other green spaces provides a framework that can and should be emulated in other districts and divisions of Pakistan for the wellbeing of our communities.
The writer is assistant commissioner (G) in the Sargodha division. All views are personal.
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