By Zulfiqar Ali
PESHAWAR: A senior military officer has stopped the transportation of the illegally cut timber dumped in Arandu valley of Chitral district and elsewhere in Malakand division despite provincial cabinet allowing it.
Officials say the general officer commanding might have done so after observing the fast depleting forests in the region.
They however said efforts were under way to get the orders withdrawn in light of the cabinet’s permission for such timber’s transportation under an amnesty scheme.
Sources in the forest department said the Malakand GOC had issued directives to field commanders not to allow transportation of all kinds of timber
They said the restriction had also been applied to farm timber as well as consignments (logs) belonging to the government-owned Forest Development Corporation, which functioned as a regulatory body to ensure the availability of timber in the market.
The sources said the restriction had brought transportation of all kinds of timber from Malakand division and parts of Hazara division to a halt since last April.
Hazara region conservator Sadiq Khattak spoke to the relevant military authorities after 40 trucks loaded with logs were stopped at a checkpost in Malakand.
The consignment was being transported from Kohistan via Malakand to the FDC depot in Dargai. The trucks were allowed to move on after the conservator brought the issue to the notice of the brigade commander concerned.
The matter is being hushed up, the sources claimed.
When contacted, the relevant officer of the Inter-Services Public Relations in Peshawar didn’t offer comments on the issue.
A forest department official in Chitral said the chief conservator would formally brief the GOC about the cabinet’s policy on the matter in few days and would request him to withdraw his order.
Special assistant to the chief minister on environment Mohammad Ishtiaq confirmed the ‘ban’ on the movement of timber by the GOC, who commands troops in Malakand, a safe haven for militants from 2006-09.
“The commander might have some misunderstanding but he will withdraw his order very soon,” he told Dawn.
According to the CM’s special assistant, the matter surfaced when the forest department sought the help of the Chitral Scouts commandant in evacuation of the illegally cut timber from Arandu valley lies along Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
He said Arandu was a sensitive area and therefore, it wasn’t possible for the forest department to transport timber from the valley without the help of security forces.
The special assistant said the forest department regularly asked the Chitral Scouts for provision of security in Arandu.
An official at the district forest office of Chitral told Dawn that the GOC ‘got disturbed’ when he observed ‘shrinking forest resources’ in valleys from helicopter in April last.
He said after aerial view of the area, the commander ordered his field commanders to restrict movement of all kinds of timber in Malakand.
“Around 15,000 cubic square feet timber was transported from Arandu before the start of snowfall in Chitral. Later, a ban was imposed on it,” he said.
The official said the GOC order had been implemented on farm timber, especially walnuts, too.
The locals said paramilitary forces didn’t allow the transportation of walnut logs from Upper Dir to southern parts of the country.
Mohammad Sultan, a resident of Upper Dir, said he was transporting 270 cft walnut timbers from Barawal to Lahore after paying a duty of Rs16,222 to the government but the FC stopped his truck at Chukaytan checkpost.
The successive governments have been giving amnesty on illegal timber in Hazara and Malakand since 1980. Currently, the illegal cutting of trees has been reported in Chitral, Upper Dir, Kohistan and Torghar districts.
A conservator said the amnesty schemes had emboldened the ‘timber mafia’ to continue with the illegal harvesting of trees and that its modus operandi was to cut down green trees, dump logs in open spaces and influence the government to relax the ban.
The provincial cabinet on the recommendation of its subcommittee had announced policy for the illegal timber in May 2016 to allow offenders and possessors to transport timber to the market.
Apart from dry standing and windfall trees mafia had illegally cut down green trees in Malakand and Hazara regions.
According to the details, over 1.5 million cubic square feet Deodar and Kail timbers have been dumped in Arandu alone, which will be brought to the market under the amnesty scheme.
Official documents say 343,142 cft illegally cut timber lies in Upper Kohistan and 22,106 cft in Torghar district.
They however don’t offer details of the illicit timber in other areas of Malakand and Hazara divisions.
The illegal cutting of trees is a potential for natural forests in the province having around 20 percent forests, according to the official estimates.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan had claimed that a ‘powerful mafia’ had unlawfully harvested Rs100 billion trees.
The PTI government in KP has launched an afforestation campaign in 2014 to plant one billion saplings during its tenure to increase the forest covered area of the province.
The cost of the five years project is around Rs17 billion.
Apart from tree plantation, the forest department carried out aerial reforestation in few districts by dispersing seeds through helicopter in the last spring season.
The government has imposed heavy fine on the illegal timber in an attempt to stop unlawful harvesting of forests.
Under the policy, the owner will pay a fine at the rate of Rs1,100 per cft for Deodar and Rs600 per cft for Kail.
In addition, 40 per cent of the total timber will be deposited with the FDC, while the rest will go to the owner.
The relevant divisional forest officer besides receipt of forest duty will recover the Forest Development Fund at the rate of Rs10 for deodar and Rs8 for Kail.
The current price of Deodar at the government designated depots is Rs3,800 per cft, while rate in the open market in Peshawar is Rs4,500 per cft.
The owner will bear the transportation cost of the total timber from the dumping site to the FDC-designated depots in Malakand.
The offender/possessor will be bound to deposit the amount of fine on 60 per cent owner share within 10 days after the transportation of consignment to the timber market in Dargai otherwise the whole consignment is liable to confiscation in favour of the government.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2017