ISLAMABAD, June 12: On June 7, Fazal Elahi, the PTI member of the KP assembly and parliamentary secretary for forests and environment, visited Chitral and announced the provincial government’s decision to abolish all the joint forest management committees (JFMC) in the district.
Environment activists and the citizens at large welcomed the move and termed it a right decision towards the preservation of forests and tightening the noose around the timber mafia in the valley.
But an official letter received by ChitralToday from its sources showed not only the government’s lackadaisical approach towards the issue of deforestation but also made it clear how politically influential people were hands in glove with the timber mafia.
According to the letter, PTI Chitral president Abdul Latif, who also contested the general election 2013 for the National Assembly seat (NA-24), was fined an amount of more than Rs40 million for allegedly cutting green trees in the Kalash valley.
The letter issued by the deputy forest manager Chitral on August 8, 2013, stated: “A contract for harvesting 1,185 dry/standing and windfall trees measuring 90,399 cubic feet (cft) marked in the Acholgah compartment No 9 & 10 was awarded to Mr. Abdul Latif, son of Gul Sambar Khan, a resident of Oweer Nichagh, Tehsil Mastuj, district Chitral, under an agreement signed by him with the FDC dated 16-01-2010.”
Accordingly, the letter added, “the work order was issued to Mr Abdul Latif for harvesting the marked trees vide Deputy Forest Manager Chitral’s letter No. 1680 dated 15-6-2010 after fulfillment of the codal formalities.” The work contractor started harvesting operations in the lot during the month of May, 2010, it said.
“On 9-06-2010, a committee consisting of officers of the Forest Development and FDC inspected FDC Lot No. 637/M (Achulgah compartment No. 9 &10) along with Mr. Noor Shahideen, the then chairman of the joint forest management committee (JFMC), Achulgah forest.” During the inspection of the lot, the following illicit damage to the unmarked green trees was observed in the Achulgah compartment No. 9: Species
No of trees Volume (cft) Deodar 138 18,539 Kail 01 107 F/S 02 108 ———————————————————————Total 141 18754 Accordingly, a show-cause notice was issued to the work contractor vide DFM Chitral letter No. 2637 dated 24-06-2013, followed by a reminder (No. 13 dated 1-7-2013).
The reply from the work contractor was examined and consequently found unsatisfactory.
“Therefore, the work contractor was held liable to punitive action under clause 22(c) of the agreement executed by him with FDC.”
It added: “Thus by invoking clause-22(c) of the agreement, the penalty of Rs.41343240/- imposed by the conservator of Forest Malakand (west) forest circle at Timergara vide his office order No.07 dated 31-7-2013 is hereby transferred to/imposed on Mr. Abdul Latif S/O Gul Smabar Khan R/O Oweer Nichagh, Tehsil Mastuj, District Chitral (work contractor for FDC Lot No. 637/M).” The above penalty is recoverable from work bills, security deposits or as arrears of land revenue of the said work contractor as per provision of the agreement executed by him with FDC, the document added.
However, when ChitralToday contacted Mr Abdul Latif, he said he had sublet the contract to Haji Muhammad Khan. He said the inspection report was prepared through the JFMC head Noor Shahideen who had some grudge with Haji Muhammad Khan and tried to settle an old score with him.
Mr Latif said he had challenged the penalty in a civil court of Chitral where it was under adjudication. Talking to ChitralToday, Haji Muhammad Khan said after a kidnapping and murder incident in the forest area, the harvesting of wood there was stopped during which some people from the Kalash valley cut the green trees and later tried to involve him in it.
Sources said that MPA Fouzia Bibi of the PTI had been tasked by the local leadership to approach the high government functionaries and get the penalty on Mr Latif waived or at least substantially reduced. However, Ms Fouzia in a text message to ChitralToday stated: “I am very responsible (person). If someone is involved in illegal work, even my party member, I would never support him on any cost.”
The sources said the parliamentary secretary on forests, Fazal Elahi, had planned to make a surprise visit to Chitral after receiving public complaints about the rampant cutting of trees in the valley but the timber mafia got the news of his arrival in Chitral well in advance. When Mr Elahi reached Drosh and came to the venue of a meeting with the citizens at the rest house, most of the participants were from Arandu, Shishi Koh and Ashiret who were involved in the timber ‘business’ or had links with the timber mafia.
The sources said when the parliamentary secretary announced to abolish the JFMCs across Chitral, the PTI local leaders tried their best to persuade him to withdraw the decision but to no avail.
The PTI Chitral president, Abdul Latif, was however, in Peshawar at that time. Irrespective of the outcome of the case, many residents of Chitral are of the view that the mere imposition of the huge penalty on Mr Latif showed that the cupboard of the PTI, which came to power in KP on the slogan of a change and fighting corruption, was not free from skeletons at least in Chitral.