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‘All members of society are the owner of forests as they reap benefits from them’. —AFP/File
‘All members of society are the owner of forests as they reap benefits from them’. —AFP/File

KARACHI: While accusing the government of taking over forest land for sugarcane projects and patronising the illegal occupation of forest land, members of civil society organisations have opposed the recent decision of the Sindh government to allot 9,000 acres of forest land to the army. They argue that it will further shrink the already depleted forest cover and negate the government’s international commitments on nature conservation.

They strongly criticised the lease policy of the government and said it led to large-scale deforestation.

“Ninety per cent of the province’s forest cover has gone and what is left doesn’t meet the international standard of a forest,” said Zain Daudpoto of the Indus Development Foundation, a non-governmental organisation working to uplift poor communities.

According to him, Sindh has about 750,000 acres of riverine and in-land forests (excluding mangrove forests) on paper, of which 90pc of forest land has been illegally occupied by influential landlords and there is no writ of the forest department.

‘All members of society are the owner of forests as they reap benefits from them’

The 2005 lease policy of the government, he says, had proved to be most detrimental. Between 2004 and 2005, when the policy was proposed and approved, influential people uprooted forests and then acquired it on lease.

“Instead of increasing the forest cover and alleviating poverty under the policy, the government has used the forest land to bribe people. It’s only the rich who benefitted from the policy,” he said.

The government, he said, had also amended the lease policy and reduced the plantation limit from 25pc to 20pc and allowed NGOs and the corporate sector to acquire lease of forest land under its amended agro forestry policy.

The government, he said, intended to establish sugarcane zones in Badin, Thatta and Dadu for which it had already acquired 25,000 acres of forest land in the latter two districts.

“We are totally against the lease of forest land after having seen so much misuse of this policy. The government can give some other land to the army instead of giving forest land,” he suggested. This allotment, he added, seemed to be a tactic to bring a bad name to the army, and later be used to justify their support for establishing sugarcane zones.

In 2010, Mr Daudpoto with the help of his colleagues, won a case against the Sindh government that had allowed the conversion of forest land.

“All members of society are the owner of forests as they reap benefits from them. Hence, their ownership can’t be changed or status converted,” he said.

He also expressed the intention of seeking court’s intervention against the move by the government of giving away and taking over forest land.

Seconding his opinion, Nasir Panhwar of Friends of Indus said: “We have come to a point that though there is forest land in the province, there are no forests. The move to allot forest land to the army will also send a wrong message to the international community with whom the government has agreements,” he said.

Highlighting the impacts of deforestation, he said that depletion of forests would further aggravate harsh weather conditions and effects of climate change.

“Our priority should be to conserve and increase the forest cover as we have committed under the convention on biodiversity and Millennium Development Goals,” he observed.

He expressed regret over news reports according to which the government has given large tracts of forest land to influential people after displacing local communities in a bid to support sugar mills.

Land of the outlaws

There are, however, experts who believe that giving the forest land in Shikarpur district to the army for onward distribution to the heirs of martyred soldiers and wounded military personnel is not a bad idea, provided the government ensures implementation of the terms and conditions of the lease policy.

“This area has historically been under the control of outlaws and the government has lost its writ a long time ago. So, giving it to a committed organisation like the army is a good step, if it ensures implementation of the lease term on tree plantation along with agriculture practices,” said former forest and wildlife secretary Shamsul Haq Memon.

Syed Ghulam Qadir Shah of International Union for Conservation of Nature said there was no harm in giving away the forest land to the army if the status of the land was not changed and 25pc tree plantation was done on the land.

“If they grow forests there and protect the land, there shouldn’t be any problem. There is no room for land conversion,” he said.

According to sources, the 9,000 acres is part of the 25,000 acres of forest land that is said to be the largest forest with irrigated plantation. Rangers have recently cleared the area (of outlaws) that, according to an estimate, had claimed the lives of about 300 people including an MNA.

The army’s request for land was for 35,521 acres. The application had been pending for 14 years.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2015

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Comments (20) Closed

Ibs Jun 22, 2015 06:33am

Yes maybe now the forests can be saved. The PPP has destroyed Sindhs forests and now Sindh is a barren desert.

Syed Ali Jun 22, 2015 06:34am

Why army needs this land; is it national security or just land grabbing as common practice of political parties. Army has to justify and provide details for funding if not for security of the country.

Azi Jun 22, 2015 06:49am

Yeah even the members who already have sucked the wealth in Pakistan dry and filled it in their foreign banks have rights to lands.

If you ask me, army has the only right

iqbal bhutto Jun 22, 2015 07:13am

I think people of sindh should file a FIR against Qaum Ali shah for destroying. Forest area.

VLP Jun 22, 2015 07:27am

Well, who listens to these experts...

malick Jun 22, 2015 07:53am

A step to halt corruption.

Sallu Mian Jun 22, 2015 08:15am

I respect Raheel Sharif a lot. But I certainly do not support this allotment of forest land.

Zia Khan Jun 22, 2015 08:22am

Can people who call themselves Civil society come forward and let nation know who they are?

Kala Ingrez - کالا انگریز - काला अंग्रेज - কালো ইংরাজি Jun 22, 2015 08:44am

Pakistanis should preserve what little forest left in Sind – Please do not let PPP getaway using the precious forestland as a bribe to the Army and the Rangers.
Give the army part of the desert and ask them to use modern agricultural technologies to make it green as done in many other countries.

Annonn Jun 22, 2015 08:44am

This land and the forest are in trust to our future generations once given will be lost forever. I do not think this gift is justified in a democratic society.

Danish Jun 22, 2015 09:48am

I wish army refuse this land. Enough of controversy has been attached to it.

rehan Jun 22, 2015 09:57am

Who cares what the "Civil Society" has say . They are just a bunch of people who have nothing to do but hold candlelight vigils anyway.

rehan Jun 22, 2015 09:59am

@Zia Khan "Civil Society" seems to be a very vague and generic term indeed . Most of the people coming under it's umbrella are 'high society' aunties with too much time at their hands.

Nizamuddin Ahmad Aali Jun 22, 2015 10:15am

Don't the army had enough.

Kher Baksh Legari Dadu Jun 22, 2015 10:20am

No not for Army this land 9000 belong to Hari of Sindh, why not Qaim Ali shah / Zardari give their personal agriculture land to army free of cost. Let Sindh Govt not bribe Army. Request COAS not to take land from this corrupt govt as a bribe. Catch land grab and mafia. Army just return with thanks.

Ali Murash Khaskali Jun 22, 2015 10:23am

Sindh has about 750,000 acres of riverine and in-land forests (excluding mangrove forests) on paper, of which 90pc of forest land has been illegally occupied by influential landlords and there is no writ of the forest department. Raheel Sharif should take this 750,000 acres from this illegal occupiers take for army shares rest to Sindh poor peoples Koli, Bhil, megwar, and Hari.

Kabeer Jun 22, 2015 10:54am

Sindh High Court should intervene and stop Sindh Government from destroying the province completely

Azmeen Jun 22, 2015 02:17pm

Army should not take over forest land as it i will adversely affect the environment & livelihoods of poor people who belong to that land.

Zia Khan Jun 22, 2015 02:29pm

@rehan I agree with you. It is like a shelf company. Any individual or a group can use this term of Civil Society to achieve certain objections. They give the impression as if the entire intelligentsia of Pakistan is behind them. Here someone has used this term to taint the spirit of the ongoing operation in Sindh against terrorism.

ASHFAQ Jun 22, 2015 09:53pm

@Ibs forest land must not be allotted to any one. it is governments property must be kept as it is.