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Karachi Mayor has taken back notice over Clifton park, says forester Shahzad Qureshi

The feud over the urban forest located in Karachi’s Block 5, Clifton ended as Mayor Wasim Akhtar met with forest chief Shahzad Qureshi at the park and planted a tree to extend an olive branch.

Akhtar went to the site of the forest on Thursday and met with Shahzad Qureshi who had earlier adopted the land to develop the park.

“The mayor said he has taken back the notice, and that I can carry on with my work and that the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) will support me,” said Qureshi, speaking to Dawn.com.

KMC's letter of cancellation of agreement with Shahzad Qureshi.
KMC’s letter of cancellation of agreement with Shahzad Qureshi.

Akhtar, on his part defended his earlier action of cancellation of the agreement on the development of the park, saying Qureshi had violated it with impunity.

“He had to submit a monthly report to the KMC of where he is getting his funding and how he’s using it; but not once did he do it,” said the mayor.

“And in the last two years, since he took over, you can hardly see the progress he had promised,” he added.

“That is because they did not let me work and made me go round and round in circles — ‘go there to get the design approved, go there to get this signed’…it has been a nightmare, getting this project off the ground,” responded Qureshi.

Page 1 of Qureshi's agreement with KMC.
Page 1 of Qureshi’s agreement with KMC.
Page 2 of Qureshi's agreement with KMC.
Page 2 of Qureshi’s agreement with KMC.

Qureshi defended himself further and said that as far as funds are concerned, “my accounts are very transparent. They are audited and online, for not just the mayor but for everyone to see”.

He said if that were not the case, and if people did not see it was something good for the city, he would not have been able to “convince 9,000 people” to visit and plant trees there. In the last over two years, some 15,000 trees have planted.

Aggrieved, Akhtar wished this could have been handled in a “more civilised manner”.

He was upset that Qureshi rallied people using the social media to create a “hype” and make a mountain out of a molehill.

Admitting that it was social media that came to aid in his time of distress, the forester said “I had tried all the back channels I could muster, I had even messaged the mayor’s ego personally, but he paid no heed”.

Things came to a head when some two dozen KMC staffers entered and began vandalising the park. That is when Qureshi got really rankled and got on to social media.

“Frankly, even I am surprised by the power of social media and how quickly the situation was fixed.”

An absent government

“The KMC had no business uprooting the vegetable patch and the plants so mercilessly,” said Amber Alibhai, general secretary of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE), adding that even if the municipality had developed differences with Qureshi, this was not the way to go about penalising him.

“And on top it, it was none other than the horticulture department that led the marauding,” she said, pointing out the contradiction.

Since 1964, when the Sindh government notified Kehkashan, there were 79 amenity plots (the adopted park is one such that had remained in a dilapidated state for years), to be developed as recreational spaces, the Shehri spokesperson said.

“How many have been developed by the KMC?” she asked, adding that “when people want to pitch in and do good, it is made extremely difficult for them to continue,” referring to Qureshi.

‘Environmental terrorism’

Terming the park episode and the uprooting of plants nothing short of “environmental terrorism”, Rafiul Haq, a member of the Horticultural Society of Pakistan, says he will sleep a lot better now that the feud over the park had ended.

Haq said Qureshi’s exercise symbolised “citizens’ effort to make this mega city resilient to the disaster in the form of heatwave in 2015”.

The best thing is we don’t have to wait for years to see the fruits of our labour. The Miyawaki model that Qureshi has adopted for his forest will “enhance a healthy ambiance in a short time and will contribute to the oxygen supply for the inhabitants of this concrete jungle,” he added.

“Thankfully, the KMC had not yet stepped into the forest patch or axed the trees there. Very soon people will think twice before cutting trees and plants anywhere,” said Murtaza Wahab, Advisor to Sindh Chief Minister on Climate Change and Environment.

Wahab said the Sindh Environmental Protection Authority will soon have its own police force which will take action against those causing environmental pollution.

“Those cutting or vandalising trees will also be penalised,” the Sindh government spokesperson told Dawn.com, alluding to the episode at the park in Clifton.

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