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'Shajarkaari' - A Fading Tradition

Sometimes, when I sit back and think about the things around me, I am amazed to see so much that we leave unnoticed due to our hectic routines. Ever since I was born, I have been driving through the traffic-flooded roads of Lahore, which have never directed my attention to anything else but the noisy rickshaws and the excessively irritating ‘tongas’ that have no control over their brakes and lack any sense of road judgement. Recently, an uncle of mine who lives abroad paid a visit to Pakistan. Though he had been away for quite a while, surprisingly, he still had vivid recollections of Lahore that has now changed drastically over the years. As we crossed the Jinnah fly-over near Cavalry ground, approaching towards Center Point, my uncle pointed out a change that me being a permanent resident had never bothered noticing, probably due to my utter obstinacy. "Did they cut all the trees in the middle of the greenbelt?" he asked, and for the first time, I did think in terms, other than the apparent road development of Lahore; in terms of the fact that Lahore was gradually being deprived of the lush greenery it once had.

It is generally believed that 25% of the land of any country should be devoted to the development of forests and plantation. Pakistan always keeping up the tradition of being an exception only has 5% of its land reserved for forestry. Every year, a budget is allocated to the Forest department for the plantation of trees but it is quite strange that the greenery seems to be vanishing every year rather than being more prominent. To some extent, climatic constraints are attributable to this, however these are not the sole reason for this catastrophe. Owing to various other factors, it is quite difficult to arbitrarily allocate 25% of land to forests, which does give rise to serious concern to any thinking responsible citizen.

Twice a year, the Forestry department of the four provinces of Pakistan hosts a plantation campaign known as ‘shajarkaari Mohim’. The campaign is typically in the spring and monsoon seasons. Very few people actually bother being a part of these campaigns and the few that do take the initiative, consider their work done once the tree is planted. Some big shot politician or bureaucrat, who could be seen in the newspapers the following day, planting a tree, usually heads this campaign. After this process of plantation, no one bothers to ever turn back and see if there is any amount of care required in order to keep the plant alive. A project namely Punjab Forest Sector Development Project [P.F.S.D.P] started in 1995 was not just politically supported but also had money being invested from the foreign sources. One of the prime objectives of this project was to establish pulp and paper mills in order to avoid the expenditure of millions of rupees annually spent to import this material from abroad. This project went on for years and was finally winded up quietly without accomplishing any of the objectives that were being stressed upon in the beginning. Nothing was achieved except for an excessive addition to our foreign debts.

The Punjab Forestry has limited resources, however it does not even utilize these available funds in a productive way. Eucalyptus is the only kind of tree that is grown and supplied all over Punjab. This tree is not only considered as a menace for the land itself but also has least utility compared to trees used for timber or firewood. Again, money is being spent and the results are not as rewarding as they could be only if a little more effort could be done to take this issue seriously. Unfortunately, even plantation hasn’t been an exception to the winds of political corruption. The word ‘commission’ is always an obstruction in achieving any targets that are thought to be useful. The previous governments have been allocating various budgets for ‘greenery’ purposes but unfortunately, none other than their pockets have been made green by it.

A very important and foremost step that needs to be taken is to keep a clear distinction between the part of land for forest and other uses. More and more land is being utilized for the construction of roads, houses and commercial buildings. Trees and greenbelts that are grown and maintained as a part of some Plantation Campaign are later uprooted and destroyed under the name of some new development programs. A need to maximize tree plantation and utilize every bit of land available is another positive move. The generations following should be given awareness over the issue and encouraged to indulge themselves into tree plantation. Also, the budget allocated should be utilized effectively and productively. With all that we do aside, if there is one thing we need, that is to be honest and sincere to at least the land we live on!

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