Across the road, opposite the sprawling colonial mansion on the Mall, Lahore, lies one of the most beautiful gardens of the subcontinent. Jinnah’s garden as it is now called. It was earlier known as Lawrence Gardens. It is a botanical treasure with rare species of trees hailing from all over the world, and boasting two wooded hills.

A few days back, an unpardonable crime was committed there. A number of old historic trees were cut down. Who are the culprits? The lords and masters of the horticulture department who keep spending millions to, they insist, beautify Lahore.

The excuse given was that a sewage line was to be made functional. A picture of the murdered trees appeared in a newspaper and some conservationists protested. Like so many other heart-rending happenings in this benighted land, this horrible butchery too has fallen into the dustbin.

This is no ordinary crime and to further stop such slaughter, it is vital that the matter is raised by civil society with the government. And now that there is a green bench at the High Court, let the concerned honourable judge take up this case as suo-moto. The Lahore Conservation Society and the Civic Forum too are expected to bestir themselves and initiate a campaign to bring the perpetrators of this anti-social act, to book and also to impress upon the administration not to let such nefarious activities occur again. Here, one may recall the spirited movement launched by the Lahore Bachao Tehreek, a few years back which culminated in the Supreme Court issuing an order to turn the green area around the Lahore Canal into a Heritage for its citizens. The Court order thus stopped the planned killing of hundreds of trees.

I understand that some old trees laden with rich “Ravian” traditions of yore too have been cut down. As an old Ravian, I call for an explanation from the Vice-Chancellor himself. I am sure other Ravians would join me in this protest.

The citizens of Lahore have a right to know how many more trees are to be chopped off to implement development and infrastructure plans presently being formulated.

Lahore is primarily known for its greenery. If the grassy plots, gardens, trees lining the roads and the canal cease to exist, the city, to borrow words from IVO Mosley, will be reduced to “a holding bank for chemicals, like gaunt canker.. their tendrils stretched to far corners, draining the land of life”.

A counter argument says that for progress and development, this is a price that has to be paid, that development projects are disruptive by nature but have to be accommodated. Let the answer come again from Mosley: “We have no divine right over creation; technology and progress are not our guardian angels.”

Yes, changes have to take place but all aspects of life and the citizen’s health and welfare must be considered with an open mind to arrive at balanced decisions.

Pakistan has some of the lowest forest-cover in the world: less than five percent. The desirable cover across the board is 25%. We need a massive campaign to plant and preserve trees. The good news is that Imran Khan is now intent on making KPK a model province and plans to have one billion trees planted this year. How many will actually be planted and how many will survive even after a year, remains to be seen.

Picking up from Imran, Nawaz Sharif and the other three provincial Chief Ministers too should launch similar campaigns. In actual fact, a reverse trend is gaining ground because for lack of gas and electricity, wood is being increasingly used in rural Pakistan further diminishing forest cover.