PESHAWAR: A number of the precious Shisham (Indian Rose Wood) trees have been raised to the ground in the ongoing expansion of the University Road by the Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) in the provincial capital. A total of 89 small and large trees, including at least 45 to 50 mature Shisham trees adjacent to the boundary walls of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education Peshawar (BISEP) and Islamia College University Peshawar (ICUP) have been chopped down by the workers busy in the expansion of an extra lane on both sides of the three-lane road that is often jammed due to heavy traffic, especially during school and office hours. After the directives of the provincial government, the PDA resorted to widening the road in order to ease the traffic on the road. An expansion of one lane each meant clearing of all hurdles including trees, small plants and shrubs. “No one would like to cut beautiful and historical trees but since the widening of the road is necessary, these trees have to be chopped down according to the government policy. However, we were able to shift small plants to new locations for replantation,” said Mian Muhammad Shakil, Director Horticulture with the PDA. Muhammad Shakil added that the large trees on the sides of all main roads are the property of the forest department. “Forest department was requested by the government to cut the trees that could not be moved to new locations. These were 89 in total and the government has already paid money to the forest department for plantation of new trees in return for the removed trees,” he explained. Some of the fallen trees aged more than seven decades were older than the country itself and were planted during the British-Raj before the partition of the subcontinent. These trees often reached more than 60 feet in height and five feet in thickness. According to an environmental expert on horticulture, one adult tree provides clean oxygen for up to 36 living beings on daily basis. The international environment standards suggest that at least 10 trees of five feet height or more should be planted in return for one chopped tree in order to cover the damage caused to the environment. It merits mentioning that Peshawar has been facing extremely tough challenges in terms of environment standards at it has been ranked the world’s second most polluted city after Nigeria’s Onitsha in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Urban Ambient Air Pollution index for 2016. Meanwhile, Rawalpindi was listed as the fourth most polluted city on the globe. Defending the act of cutting the roadside trees, Afsarullah Wazir, Chief Conservative Officer of the Forest Department said that most often such trees were cut down for two reasons. “Trees that are physically mature and are seen as risk to infrastructure are cut down by the concerned departments. Roadside trees are also subject to cutting if there is expansion of the road,” he added. Afsarullah added that the forest department planned to plant as many trees as possible due to the availability of space. “The plantation of trees on roadside is dependent on the available space and alignment between trees. We would try to plant at least two trees in place of one fallen tree. At least 600 more trees will be planted in other locations to cover the axed trees on University road,” he added. After an ambitious announcement by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government initiated its Billion Tree Tsunami last year. So far more than 400 million trees have been planted under this initiative. However, the provincial government has failed to counter the unchallenged timber mafia despite several claims. However, Director Horticulture Mian Muhammad Shakil is confident that Peshawar will improve in ranking in the next study on Urban Ambient Air Pollution by the WHO. He said that both sides of the Grand Trunk road and the centre-media of the Peshawar-Islamabad M1 Motorway have been improved with plantation of new trees. “We are looking for all empty places on main roads in Peshawar for plantation. This will be followed by plantation of trees on roads inside the city.