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PESHAWAR: Both treasury and opposition members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on Friday alleged corruption and irregularities in the provincial government’s flagship Billion Trees Tsunami Afforestation project and demanded that the speaker either order inquiry into the matter or refer it to the house’s relevant committee for discussion.

However, Dr Mehar Taj Roghani, who was in the chair, approved the issue for detailed discussion in the house at the request of JUI-F MPA Mufti Syed Janan and announced that the matter would be taken up soon.

The debate on the multibillion rupees initiative took place during the question hour.

In a written reply to the question of ANP’s Syed Jaffar Shah, the forestry department said 853 million trees had so far been planted across the province at a cost of Rs7.137 billion under the afforestation project.

It added that of those trees, 520 million were not planted and instead, they were protected from the cattle and fire in the pastures.

The department said 164 million more trees had been ‘grown through plantation’ and 137 million through ‘farm forestry’ (given to the people to plant on their lands), while 32 million seasonal trees were grown in different areas. “All planted trees cover 551,673 hectors of land,” it said.

Syed Jaffar said he had many reservations about the reply, especially about the tree plantation and use of billions of funds and therefore, the matter should be referred to the house’s relevant committee for detailed discussion.

However, the government didn’t agree to the idea.

Mufti Syed Janan of the JUI-F requested the chair to admit the matter for detailed discussion under Rule 48 of the assembly’s rules of business.

Public health engineering minister Shah Farman opposed the request and said there was no need for detailed discussion on the matter.

In the meantime, the assembly’s staff members told the chair that she couldn’t disapprove the request.

In a supplementary question, Mufti Janan said it was strange that the taxpayers’ money had been misused in the name of tree plantation.

Mohammad Ali of the Jamaat-i-Islami, which is a coalition partner of the ruling PTI, said there were ‘many problems’ in the execution of the billion trees plantation project.

“Many irregularities have been occurred in this initiative,” he claimed.

The MPA demanded that an inquiry be conducted into the matter or it be referred to the house’s standing committee on forestry for thorough discussion.

Shiraz Khan of the PML-N demanded that a committee comprising leaders of all parliamentary parties be formed to dig out the ‘facts’ about the afforestation project.

Parliamentary secretary for forestry department Fazl Ilahi rejected the allegations and said he could provide all sought-after details of the project.

“If the members want, I can produce each and every thing of the project, which is on record,” he said.

The chair later adjourned the session due to a lack of quorum annoying lawmakers, who insisted that some PML-N and treasury members had intentionally created a lack of quorum by stepping out of the house.

Sobia Shahid of the PML-N pointed out the lack of quorum before walking away along with other party members. Some treasury members followed them.

The chaired asked the assembly’s staff members to ring bells for two minutes. As the order was complied with, quorum continued to be lacking.

Mehmud Bittani of the JUI-F complained that he and many others came to the assembly from far-off areas to discuss the people’s problems but unfortunately, some lawmakers intentionally created quorum issue.

“Some legislators don’t take the sittings seriously,” he said.

Other lawmakers also flayed the relevant colleagues on the matter.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2017