Nigahbans start protest against their suspension

Report Ejaz Ahmed
BOONI: A large number of youth from different parts of upper Chitral hired by the forest and wildlife departments as Nigahbans of saplings planted under the previous KP government’s Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project (BTTAP) on Thursday launched a protest against non-payment of their salaries for nine months and termination of their services without any notice.

Addressing the protesters, their leader Muhammad Nabi from Reshun said the two government departments had employed over 400 Nigahbans to look after the plants and help stop poaching of ibex and other wild animals in Chitral. He said the 200 or so Nigahbans in upper Chitral worked 365 days a year without a break even in snow but they were not paid their monthly pay of Rs15,000 for nine months.
He said the district forest officers first kept them on waiting promising that the dues would be cleared soon but when the tenure of the PTI-led government in KP expired on May 30 the Nigahbans were flatly told that they had been suspended by the higher authorities.
He said the Nigahbans from upper Chitral numbering about 200 were now left with no other option but start a protest to get justice. He said if the government did not clear their salaries they would close the Chitral-Mastuj road by staging a sit-in along with their family members. He said the Nigahbans would also boycott the forthcoming election if their pending salaries were not cleared.
It may be mentioned here that on April 15, 2018, District Forest Officer (DFO) Shaukat Fayyaz Khattak had told ChitralToday that  2.6 million (2600,000) saplings had been planted across Chitral under the BTTAP.
He said Nigahbaans had been appointed to look after the saplings for a period of three years. After the expiry of the contracts of the Nigahbaans, the projects would be handed over to the local communities for looking after the saplings. In this regard, village-based committees would be constituted who would be looking after the trees.
He said the project would continue even after the expiry of the PTI-led KP government. The communities would be looking after the trees and utilize them, he added. He said at present 532 Nigahbaans were looking after the saplings in the district and 18 more would be hired soon.
In reply to a question, the DFO said the dues of Nigahbaans would be paid to them by June 30 this year.

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