CHAKWAL: A controversial road project has not only rung alarm bells for urial population in Chumbi-Surla Wildlife Sanctuary, the sole protected area in the Salt Range, but also brought different departments to lock horns with each other.
The approval of a new 11.83km long road, from Khokar Zer village in Chakwal tehsil to Dharialah Kahoon village in Choa Saidan Shah tehsil, was given by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf during his last days in the office.
The road project, worth Rs200 million, was meant to ease travel of thousands of villagers belonging to Kahoon Valley, an area between Choa Saidan Shah and Kallar Kahar, but Pakistan Public Works Department (Pak PWD) was not able to get a no-objection certificate (NOCs) from the Forest and Wildlife Department. Due to this, work could not start till a few days ago.
Member of National Assembly (MNA) retired Maj Tahir Iqbal asked the contractor to start work despite opposition from the district forest and wildlife department. The contractor, backed by the MNA, started work on May 24, which forced the district forest officer and officials from the wildlife department to rush to the scene along with police.
The contractor agreed to stop work but as enraged officials left the area, work resumed.
On May 25, villagers gathered at the spot and protested against the forest and wildlife department, terming the construction of road inevitable.
While on the other hand, officials of the wildlife department believe that construction of any sort must not be done in any wildlife sanctuary.
According to officials, Chumbi-Surla Sanctuary that has an area of 12,180 acres is the sole protected area for wildlife, which is also considered a safe-haven for the urial population.
“According to section 16 of Wildlife Act 2007, any sort of construction cannot be done in a protected area,” said an official in the Punjab Wildlife Department.
“If anyone violates this section, they can be jailed for five years,” the official added.
He said that the construction of road would pose a threat to the urials. “If the road is constructed, the sanctuary will not remain a prohibited area and the wildlife particularly the urial population will suffer a lot because this is a breeding spot for urials,” the official said.
Instead of taking any legal action, Punjab Wildlife Department is still hesitating over the matter.
“We want to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner and we are trying our best in this regard,” a senior official in the wildlife department told Dawn.
The District Forest Department, which has become a victim of this controversial project, has also been snubbed.
According to the forest policy, the department asked the Pak-PWD to pay Rs2.90 million as compensation since its 5km area is being engulfed by the road construction. But the Pak-PWD has not paid any heed to the forest department’s demand so far.
When approached, Chaudhry Rasheed the Executive Engineer of Pak-PWD said that his department had stopped the work. But when he was told that work was continuing, he replied that he would look into the matter.
On the other hand Chaudhry Tariq, the contractor, claimed that he had resumed work on the assurance of MNA Tahir Iqbal.
“MNA Tahir Iqbal has asked us to go ahead, which is why we have resumed work,” he said.
Talking to Dawn, MNA Tahir Iqbal confessed that he was trying his best to get the road constructed.
“I do believe in the importance of wildlife, but an urial cannot be preferred over a human being,” he said.
“The people of that area have to travel 40 to 50km to reach Chakwal and if this road is constructed, a distance of 15 to 20km will be reduced,” he said.
“Documents which I saw suggest that there is a proposed 33 feet wide road from Katas Raj to Khokar Zer. That’s why the road could be constructed,” he claimed.
When contacted, District Coordination Officer (DCO) Asif Bilal Lodhi told Dawn that he was trying his best to resolve the issue. “I have directed the concerned departments to present detailed reports in this regard,” he said.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2014