PESHAWAR: Two departments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have locked horns over the auctioning of designated forest areas for mining purposes, which the former declares a serious threat to forest protection in the province.

Sources told Dawn that the forestry department had shared a list of 41 sites falling in the designated forests, which mines and mineral department had auctioned for mining purposes.

They said the forestry department wrote written a letter in that respect on Jan 10 to the secretary of the mines and mineral department saying the practice of granting mining licences to auctioneers in designated forests poses serious threat to forest protection and conservation of precious natural resources and therefore, all fresh applications should be thoroughly scrutinised at the preliminary state.

Forestry dept insists mines dept’s move threatens forest protection in province

The department noted that around 40 per cent of around 5,000 applications received online for mining exploration licences were about forest areas.

Earlier in Nov last year, the government had formed a cabinet committee to amend Section 33 of the Forest Ordinance, 2002, to enable mines and tourism departments to use forest areas for commercial purposes.

A four-member committee is headed by senior minister for sports and tourism Mohammad Atif Khan.

The letter noted that sections 26, 33 and 44 read with Section 2(19) (b) (IV) of the KP Forest Ordinance, 2002, prohibited removal of stones, rock or mineral and surface soil and all products of mines quarries in designated forests.

It said the Mineral investment Facilitation Authority (MIFA) in its meeting on February 2018 decided that cases of renewal/conversion of areas auctioned for mining purposes which are overlapping with reserved, protected and guzara forests be declined. It said 24 no objection certificates for extractions of minerals with protected forests were cancelled, which several cases of illegal mining in forest areas were referred to the mines department for stopping the activity and cancelling the lease; however, mines department did not bothered to respond to the correspondence.

It said that law department has also endorsed the view that the all types of mining and stone crushing activities were prohibited in designated forests and that DG Mines and Minerals, who happened to be chairman of Mineral Titles Committee (MTC) was also requested on several occasions to ensure that areas auctioned for mining should not fall inside designated forests.

“The MTC has deliberated 1228 cases for award of mineral titles from Jan 10 to Dec 26, 2018, wherein 262 cases involving 274, 43 acres designated forests were declined,” it said, adding that despite declining of the award, in most of the cases mining activities were being carried out in the forest areas.

The letter added that the DG Mines department has explicitly requested to exclude the cases falling in forest areas from MTC agenda while a thorough verification process reported that out of 425 licenses a total of 41 fell inside designated forests.

The department said all fresh application should be properly sorted out by the DG Mines office and for this purpose forestry department has already shared its GIS data with the mines department.

It said despite MIFA decision and subsequent departmental correspondence, huge number of cases involving forest land is being placed at the MTC agenda.

The department asked the mines department to exclude cases involving forest land from grant of mineral titles and such proposals should not be placed before the MTC at all.

“The matter should be given top priority otherwise; forestry department is constrained to approach the chief minister KP for implementation of MIFA decision,” it added.

When contacted, DG (mines and mineral development) Muntazir Khan said the law department was acting as mediator in the issue.

He said a tripartite committee including officials of law, mines and forestry departments would visit the areas to decide whether the areas fell in the designated forests or not and then make a decision.

He said the committee’s findings would then be placed before the cabinet committee headed by minister Mohammad Atif Khan.

The minister and secretary for the forestry department were not available for comments despite repeated attempts.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019