Zar Alam Khan
ISLAMABAD: While billions of rupees have been spent on the tsunami afforestation programme, the government’s own policy of cutting trees for commercial use is helping the timber mafia in denuding Chitral of its green forest cover, according to official documents.
Under the policy, the trees that are damaged due to strong winds or heavy snow can be marked and cut down in consultation with the local communities for commercial use. But taking cover of the policy, green and healthy trees are axed by the timber mafia in connivance with government officials concerned and sold in the urban areas.
People with political connections have been involved in the illegal cutting of green trees, smuggling and depriving local communities of the forest royalty.
According to official documents available with Dawn, PTI leader Abdul Latif, who was the party’s candidate for National Assembly seat of Chitral in the 2013 and 2018 elections, was fined Rs41.34 million by the forest department for cutting 18,754 cubic feet of unmarked green trees in Rumbur valley in 2013.
He filed a case in a civil court and in the meanwhile managed to get the penalty amount reduced to Rs6.8 million through an arbitration held by the forest department.
In March 2019, the civil court directed him to pay the reduced fine. It also ordered departmental action against government officials involved in the case. However, Mr Latif filed an appeal in the district and sessions court which was dismissed last month.
In 2015, APML leader Khalid Pervez and a former divisional forest officer along with three other persons were arrested by NAB for their alleged involvement in embezzlement of Rs76 million forest royalty funds of the people of Bumburate. They were acquitted of the charges by an accountability court in March 2019.
Forests in Chitral are spread over 120,000 acres mainly in Kalash, Arandu and Shishikoh valleys.