KARACHI: Sitting next to Wadi-e-Hussain graveyard off Super Highway, Shujaat Hussain isn’t mourning the loss of a loved one but hundreds.
A day earlier, as many as 540 Neem trees that Hussain has been taking care of for the last three years were brutally chopped down to pave way for a cattle market set up by a private company.
On Friday afternoon, Hussain sat under the grey skies staring at the corpses of the young Neem trees. “They were so young,” said the gardener of the Sindh Wildlife Department. It was a rude shock for the man to come to work on Thursday morning and find the trees bulldozed. “As soon as I arrived at the spot, the tree cutters ran away on their motorcycles,” he pointed out. “It’s not an easy task to grow a Neem tree in an arid region. We grew thousands of them,” he said.
Green greeting from Karachi
According to Sindh Forest Department range officer Imran Bhutto, 10,000 Neem trees were planted nine years ago on National Highway Authority land between Wadi-e-Hussain graveyard and New Sabzi Mandi.
“These trees are a landmark for Karachi,” he said, explaining that whoever enters Karachi can spot these trees from a distance and know they have entered city limits.
Who’s the culprit?
Preliminary probe into the matter revealed that a company named Everest International has received permission from Askari Foundation, related to the defence forces, to establish a cattle market at this location.
This is surprising given there is an official cattle market located a stone’s throw away and private individuals are not allowed to set up their own markets. Malir cantonment official Munawar Aleem Rana said that no other cattle market is allowed to be established on Super Highway other than the one at Sohrab Goth. Stern action will be taken against the management of the private cattle market if it is set up, he warned.
Everest has even invited tenders through various newspapers mentioning the same location of the cattle market as the site where the trees were bulldozed.
An Everest International consultant, Rahat Ali, told The Express Tribune that they have permission from Askari Foundation, and not Cantonment Board Malir, to run the cattle market. The cantonment board runs the official cattle market on Sohrab Goth and is the relevant authority in this matter.
“We don’t need any no-objection certificate from Malir deputy commissioner or the cantonment board as we have direct permission from Askari Foundation,” he claimed, before denying that the company bulldozed any trees in the area. “We have rooted out only a few small plants,” he insisted.
Meanwhile, Bhutto from the forest department blamed Everest for bulldozing the trees to create parking space for the private cattle market. The department tried to lodge an FIR against the culprits but the cantonment police station refused, he said. A Cantonment police station officer, Azeem Solangi, said they are looking into the matter and will register a case as soon as they know who the culprit is.
Karachi commissioner Ejaz Ahmed Khan, who had recently announced that tree-cutting has been made a punishable offence, was unaware of this incident. “I will definitely take action against the culprits,” he said. Meanwhile, the Malir deputy commissioner was unavailable for comments.