While the PTI government has been making claims and working on a so-called billion tree tsunami afforestation project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it seems hands in gloves with the timber mafia in denuding Chitral of the forest cover.
On the one hand, local people are not allowed even to purchase and transport wood for construction of small houses within Chitral, trucks loaded with timber always make a beeline down to urban areas from Chitral.
These timber mostly come from Arandu, Shishikoh and other forest areas of lower Chitral and is smuggled to down districts as far away as Peshawar and areas of Malakand division by the timber mafia.
In a post on social media, Shahzada Siraj Ulmulk on Tuesday said: “Today 24 Dec 2019 I was travelling from Chitral to Islamabad. When I reached Drosh I was astonished to see trucks lined up loaded to the brim with precious timber obviously from the diminishing pine forests of Chitral.
“As I proceeded into my journey I started crossing more and more of such timber-loaded Bedford trucks. By the time I reached Chakdara I had counted more than 30 such trucks. Could someone tell us what is happening please?”
He said he had noted details of a few trucks. From the pictures you can see for yourself the wanton destruction that has taken place to our forests.
“I also saw piles and piles of timber lying by the riverside not far from Nagar Fort towards the Chitral side. I am sure it will not be difficult for anyone in authority to trace these trucks out if they act quickly in the next 24 hrs.
“Of course, the smugglers of this timber will have paper justifications handy to show that all this is being done very legally.”
Such papers may also justify the timber in the name of “windfalls” and “snowfalls” but no one in their right mind can believe this to be true.
Unless an immediate stop is put to this, after a proper inquiry, the prime minister’s pet project of the billion tree tsunami will have no meaning at all, he added.
WHO ARE THE CULPRITS?
The real culprit causing the present destruction to our forests is the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, the forestry, environment and wildlife departments.
Thousands of green trees were felled in Arandu in the name of windfall and snowfall by the timber mafia in Chitral and later were allowed to be disposed of. Under this government policy, trees that fall due to winds or heavy snow could be marketed in consultation with the local community.
But under the guise of this policy, green trees are deliberately cut in Arandu, Shishikoh and other forest areas by the timber mafia in connivance with the government departments concerned and sold in urban areas.
A letter issued written by the deputy commissioner of Chitral in June 2018 sought withdrawal of the government policy as it was causing irreparable destruction to the forest by helping the timber mafia to cutting green trees.
The letter mentions that over 1.5 million cubic feet illegally cut timber was lying in Arandu valley. Out of this timber, around 26,210 cft was lying at Kalkatak at that time awaiting transportation to the down districts while 20154 cft had been transported to Dargai.
The policy caused havoc to the green forest and must be withdrawn immediately by Prime Minister Imran Khan himself, said Shahzada Siraj.
In simple terms, what is this ill-conceived policy of the KP government telling us? It is telling me that if I am caught with my stolen timber I can easily legalize it if:
- I pay 60% of the easily- manipulated cost to forest owners (who are all illiterate, very poor and will be happy with even a couple of thousand rupees)
- I pay 40% of this easily manipulated cost to the government of Pakistan through traditionally corrupt forest and other such government officials.
Because of this policy, piles and piles of illegally cut timber is already lying along riverbeds in Chitral ready to be “legalised” by their “owners” through the Forest Department.
The letter also shows how some past DCs tried to help us and how their successors succumbed to pressure by the timber mafia.