The Vital Role of Trees and Relevant Laws in Punjab, Pakistan

The Importance of Trees in Combatting Environmental Pollution

Trees are crucial in mitigating environmental pollution, providing numerous benefits such as air purification, carbon sequestration, and enhancing biodiversity. Recognising their importance, several laws in Punjab, Pakistan, aim to protect and promote the plantation of trees. These laws not only safeguard existing trees but also mandate tree planting by specific groups. Here, we explore the key legislative measures in Punjab regarding the cutting and planting of trees.

Key Legislative Measures

  1. The Parks and Horticulture Authority Act, 2012: This Act pertains to green areas, green belts, heritage parks, and public parks in Lahore. It strictly prohibits the cutting of trees within its jurisdiction. The government may extend this Act to other areas of Punjab through notification, ensuring broader protection for green spaces.
  2. The Punjab Plantation and Maintenance of Trees Act, 1974: Extending to the entire province of Punjab, this Act focuses on the plantation of trees in towns and villages. It covers areas not occupied by buildings but utilised for agricultural purposes, promoting tree planting to enhance environmental quality and agricultural sustainability.
  3. Cutting of Trees (Prohibition) Act, 1992: This Act aims to preserve trees near Pakistan’s external frontiers, including fields in designated zones. It strictly prohibits the cutting of trees in these areas to maintain ecological balance and prevent environmental degradation.
  4. The Punjab Local Government Act, 2019: Applicable throughout Punjab, except in Cantonment areas, this Act includes provisions against tree cutting. It ensures local governments enforce policies that protect green spaces and promote urban forestry.
  5. The Forest Act, 1927 [Punjab]: Covering forests, forest lands, reserved forests, protected forests, and village forests in Punjab, this Act prohibits tree cutting in these areas. It aims to manage and conserve forest resources sustainably.
  6. The Cantonments Act, 1924 and The Cantonment Ordinance, 2002: These laws apply to Cantonment areas across Pakistan, including those in Punjab. They prohibit tree cutting within green belts, ensuring these areas remain verdant and protected.
  7. The Lahore Canal Heritage Park Act, 2013: Specific to the Lahore Canal and surrounding green belts, this Act prohibits tree cutting. It protects the scenic and ecological integrity of the Canal Heritage Park, a vital urban green space.
  8. The Punjab Wildlife Act, 1974: This Act pertains to various wildlife conservation areas, including national parks, game reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries in Punjab. It prohibits tree cutting in these areas to preserve habitats and promote biodiversity.

Judicial Interventions and Directives

The superior judiciary in Pakistan has played an active role in environmental protection, issuing orders to preserve trees and recognising them as a public trust resource. Key judicial pronouncements include:

  • Sindh High Court: Emphasised that government entities, including those related to defence, must support actions involving tree cutting with valid legislation.
  • Lahore High Court: Directed several authorities, including the Defense Housing Authority (DHA) and Lahore Development Authority (LDA), to comply with urban plantation policies and enhance urban reforestation efforts. Specific directives included:
    1. Compliance with laws and court judgments to protect forests.
    2. Active protection and management of urban forests, with efforts to expand forested areas.
    3. Consideration of revising tree planting and penalty requirements under relevant laws.
    4. Yearly reports on forest expansion and urban planting campaigns by responsible entities.
    5. Penalties for neglecting duties or unauthorised tree cutting.
    6. Housing societies must plant trees in front of each house and maintain them.

In recent years, the Pakistani judiciary has actively addressed environmental concerns, particularly those involving illegal tree cutting. The courts have demonstrated a commitment to environmental preservation through a series of landmark rulings. Below is an analysis of how various courts have responded to such cases, with specific citations illustrating their approaches.

The Peshawar High Court case of Mohammad Yahya v. Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (2022 MLD 21) provides a compelling example. Here, the petitioners claimed ownership of land and were aggrieved by the restrictions on tree cutting imposed by the authorities. The court upheld the restriction, ruling that the land was part of a protected forest and had been incorrectly recorded as private property. The court concluded that the issue was fundamentally factual and could not be resolved without a full evidentiary hearing, thus dismissing the constitutional petition.

Similarly, the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court case, Provincial Government through Chief Secretary, Gilgit-Baltistan v. Ahalian Naltar Bala, Pain (2022 YLR 635), dealt with local residents’ rights to damaged or fallen trees. The trial court dismissed the residents’ suit, but the appellate court partially allowed it, recognizing their entitlement to naturally fallen or damaged trees. The appellate court’s decision was upheld because the respondents had provided substantial evidence, whereas the petitioners failed to counter it effectively.

In another significant case, Habibullah v. Sessions Judge, Tharparkar at Mithi (2021 YLR 312), the Sindh High Court addressed the issue of ownership of trees involved in an illegal cutting case. Despite the accused’s acquittal, the court denied the return of the trees, citing the lack of documentary proof of ownership and the potential for repeated offences. This case underscores the judiciary’s cautious stance in returning property used in environmental crimes.

The Karachi High Court’s ruling in Gulzar Ahmed v. Province of Sindh (2019 PLD 697) invoked the public trust doctrine against the Pakistan Air Force’s cutting of trees for security reasons. The court maintained the petition, emphasizing that public resources, such as green belts, must be preserved. The court ordered a halt to further tree cutting and mandated compliance with environmental laws, reflecting a balanced approach between security needs and environmental preservation.

The Peshawar High Court also ruled in Dr. Jehanzeb Khan v. Anti-Corruption Nowshera (2016 MLD 1174), where the petitioner was investigated for unauthorized tree cutting and selling. The court refrained from interfering with the Anti-Corruption Establishment’s ongoing investigation, highlighting the judiciary’s support for thorough and unbiased inquiries into environmental offences.

A pivotal Supreme Court case, Lahore Bachao Tehrik v. Dr. Iqbal Muhammad Chauhan (2015 SCMR 1520), addressed the environmental impact of widening Lahore Canal Road. The court allowed the project with conditions to minimise environmental damage, illustrating a pragmatic approach that considers both development needs and environmental protection. The court mandated replanting trees to mitigate the ecological impact, showing a commitment to sustainable development.

Lastly, in the case of Lahore Conservation Society v. Chief Minister of Punjab (2011 PLD 344), the Lahore High Court handled a public interest litigation concerning the environmental impact of constructing a flyover. The court dismissed the petition, emphasising that such projects, though temporarily inconvenient, would ultimately benefit the public by alleviating traffic issues. This ruling highlights the judiciary’s perspective that environmental concerns must be balanced with public interest and infrastructural development.

These cases collectively underscore the Pakistani judiciary’s evolving approach to environmental protection, particularly regarding illegal tree cutting. The courts have balanced the need for environmental conservation with the practicalities of development and public interest, ensuring that ecological considerations are integrated into legal and administrative frameworks.

Conclusion

The legislative and judicial framework in Punjab, Pakistan, underscores the critical role trees play in environmental sustainability. By enforcing laws that protect existing trees and mandate new plantations, the province aims to combat pollution, enhance green cover, and ensure ecological balance. At Josh and Mak International, we are committed to advocating for these legal protections and supporting efforts to create a greener, healthier environment for all.

By The Josh and Mak Team

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