It has been reported that the petitioners and the Punjab government have both rejected the compromise suggested by the mediation committee to address their differences over the future of the Lahore Canal. The committee had been constituted following the Supreme Court directives in the petition against the Canal Road Widening Project and it was given the difficult task of finding a solution that was acceptable to both sides. The gulf between the positions of the government that would like to construct a highway along the canal on the one hand and conservationist groups who'd like to save the trees that would be massacred at the altar of this highway on the other, was obviously too wide to be bridged by the committee. The week before last, the court had concluded the hearing in the case and reserved its judgement amidst criticism of the committee by the petitioners, who felt that it lacked the required expertise and were perturbed by the fact that a majority of its members were part of the government. Unfortunately, a good opportunity afforded by the court to settle the matter has been squandered. To begin with, the recommendations submitted by the committee on July 4, after five months of deliberation and consultation with the stakeholders, have failed to bring the opposing camps on the same page. The list of its recommendations has some useful suggestions, but it falls way short of proposing a comprehensive and consensus solution that the committee was expected to deliver. Rather than addressing the issues at the core of the debate, the committee seems to have tried to please both sides by including contradictory recommendations to satisfy them. But as happens in such situations, the committee has ended up pleasing none, and has brought us back to square one. To be fair, one must recognise the challenging assignment given to the committee. After all, the government officials and departments have concerns that are very different from those opposing the project. Going by how successive governments and their chosen officials have botched up the development of Lahore, it is not difficult to understand their misplaced priorities. Regardless of who's been in control, some aspects of urban development in Lahore have remained constant and they have extracted a heavy price from this ancient metropolis. The most important aspect among them is the total lack of an overall vision for development. Development in the city has been done in an itsy-bitsy fragmented manner largely to please the political bosses, contractors and real estate interests, and it flies in the face of anything remotely related to sound urban planning with clear development goals that address the needs of its teeming citizens. The Canal Road Widening Project fits into this concept of development for the few, complete with its multibillion rupee construction contracts, treasure of potential timber, real estate possibilities, and convenience for the minority of car-owning elite. On the other hand, those opposing the project have a completely different perspective on development, a perspective that envisions a city that caters to not only the rich minority, but also the less privileged sections of its burgeoning population, a city that has room in it for trees and green belts and does not view these assets as potential timber and road space. This diverse group of concerned citizens, conservationists, tree lovers, environmental activists, urban planners and architects see their city in a very different way and they have a very different view on how it should develop. So naturally, the committee's job was not easy to begin with. Having said that, the list of its recommendations is disappointing. It calls for declaring the Lahore Canal to be a 'heritage urban park' and treating it in a holistic manner but, at the same time, it recommends the construction of a network of service roads, recreation spots and widening the Canal Road along a stretch within this heritage urban park. There are useful recommendations as well like correcting the underpasses built on the wrong side of the road, diverting traffic by building new traffic corridors, ending the dumping of sewage and effluent in the canal and preserving the canal ecosystem. There are other recommendations in the right direction, but they are more generalised like improving the public transport system, giving bycyclists and pedestrians a higher priority in urban planning, cutting noise pollution and designing a traffic management system. There are a few glaring omissions in the list of recommendations, the most important being the construction of bus stops off the road. The buses on the Canal Road stop right on the main road, blocking half of it and causing hurdles in the smooth flow of traffic. It is not difficult to identify spots along the road for bus stops that would take buses off the main road for picking up and dropping passengers, and ease the traffic flow with minimum damage to the green belts and trees. Creating a path through the green belt for cyclists and slow moving traffic would also help things. Similarly, the sidewalk could be moved to the green belt as well, making it convenient for the pedestrians who, at present, must cross the road to use it. Fruit vendors could be moved to the green belt with parking spots for cars that stop to buy the fresh seasonal fruits they bring from nearby farms. All this could be done with minimum damage to the trees and without adding concrete. There are many ways to ease the traffic congestion on the canal without destroying its treasure of trees and green belts. The committee has listed some and the government and its city planners could come up with other ways if it were their priority, but all indications are that they have made up their mind to go ahead and destroy an asset that any city would safeguard. In forming the mediation committee, the court had provided an opportunity to the parties to put their heads together for finding a solution, but that has not happened. Seems like the ball is again in the judges' court. May God give them the wisdom to see through the mala fide intentions of the government planners and pass an order that stops them from destroying the Lahore Canal for petty gains and no good reason. The writer is an independent columnist. Email: